Despite a long love affair with red meat, more Americans than ever are turning toward plant-based imitators at restaurants and grocery stores. Not the hockey puck veggie burgers in the back of your freezer, mind you—these are plant-based patties engineered to mimic the taste of real meat.
But making vegetation seem like flesh has always been tough. To create something that satisfies carnivores, Silicon Valley decided you have to use the components of real meat—and that means heading to the laboratory. Whether consumers will readily devour burgers made out of cells cultivated in a bioreactor, though, is an open question.
As with most everything Americans buy, branding such cultured meat will be critical. That’s the takeaway from a study released last week by Faunalytics, an animal-advocacy group, and the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit alternative animal products industry group. “Lab-grown,” “in vitro” or “cultured meat” burgers are unlikely to fly out of the freezer case. But calling them “clean meat,” a term pushed by the nascent industry, may encourage new adopters.
There’s a growing movement to rein in the global industrial meat complex. Consumers in developing nations with more disposable income are increasingly turning to beef products, matching the perpetual U.S. appetite for a food whose mass production has had negative environmental and health consequences. But first, you have to sell it.
“Appetite appeal is everything,” said Nik Contis, a senior partner at PS212, a brand consultancy. He agrees that of all the potential names, “clean meat” is the most favorable of what are generally “dystopian” monikers. “Whatever they label this, ultimately it can become a sort of linchpin in communicating to consumers,” he explained. “You want ‘yes,’ not ‘yuck.’”
Two thirds of people in the Faunalytics survey said they’d try meat generated from cell cultures when described as “clean meat” and after hearing positive descriptions of the products. The term, according to the survey, “reduces feelings of disgust.” Negative messages about conventional meat also helped with consumer acceptance.
Research by other firms not associated with animal advocacy, however, has been less favorable. According to data from food and agriculture marketing firm Charleston|Orwig, only 3 percent of consumers expressed “no reservations” about eating such products, while 57 percent responded, “No, absolutely not.” A third survey, by food trends research firm Datassential, found that 68 percent said they were “not interested” in cultured meats.
There’s another hitch: The beef, pork and chicken industries insist that if it doesn’t come from an animal, it shouldn’t be called meat at all. Ironically, Big Meat companies such as Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc. are pouring millions of dollars into startups seeking to make meat and fish products without killing animals.
The technology, if it can reach the right price point and be brought to scale, is nothing less than the disruption of agriculture as we know it, said Will Sawyer, lead economist for animal protein at CoBank. Aside from impacting the meat industry, there would also be substantial effects on global grain production, which exists mainly to feed animals, and on water and air quality, he said. Neither Tyson nor Cargill responded to requests for comment.
One might think that the benefits that flow to the environment and animal welfare would be key selling points for cultured meat—but you would be wrong. While younger consumers are attuned to such issues, they are, overall, the least-selected reasons for cutting meat consumption, said Kyle Chamberlin from Datassential.
The growth of plant-based foods is instead largely driven by health concerns. Almost half of consumers are buying veggie burgers because they think it’s better for them, according to a March Datassential report. GFI said there are health benefits to cellular agriculture. Unlike conventional meat, these products will be free of fecal contamination and won’t require antibiotics, thereby not contributing to human antibiotic resistance. But neither of these are the typical health-related drivers, like avoiding saturating fat and cholesterol and losing weight.
Companies could also theoretically combine animal muscle and fat cells to create a healthier nutritional profile, but that’s “an open question at the moment,” according to Matt Ball of GFI. For example, there’s been discussion of making beef without heme iron, a component of meat which some studies found may be linked to cancer.
Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for JUST, a startup that makes both plant-based meat substitutes and cellular agriculture, said his company’s prototypes have nutritional profiles “very similar” to conventionally produced meat. (His company recently raised $220 million.)
While cultured meat faces several obstacles, cultured fish may be easier to introduce. Finless Foods co-founder Mike Selden said “clean” fish will have an advantage over the real thing in that it doesn’t contain mercury and plastic. On the other hand, the fatty acid chains that make real fish good for you come from algae consumption. So companies are working on putting that nutrition back into the product.
The future of cultured meat will depend on whether it tastes as good as the real thing, is convenient and has the right price, said Justin Kolbeck and Arye Elfenbein, cofounders of Wild Type, a San Francisco-based cellular agriculture company. Their startup pledges to make “delicious, accessible, and affordable meat and fish,” starting with cultured salmon and trout. The company said it’s also designing a production process that could reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses.
The Datassential report points to one way of increasing consumer interest in these products. Many respondents said they’d be more interested if they knew more about production methods and a lack of health risks. Selden of Finless Foods agreed, saying that the more consumers learn about cellular agriculture, the more accepting they become.
Others aren’t so sure.
“This is a vast unknown,” said Mark Gale, Charleston|Orwig’s chief executive. Companies “shouldn’t assume that just because they might be able to make it, that necessarily, there will be broad adoption.”
"The things we've seen..."
The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II
‘Love Island’ is more lucrative option than Oxbridge
Appearing on the show boosts your lifetime earnings more than Oxbridge degree, economists find
And that’s were we are today…
As you might imagine, this is not a great incentive for young people to study and work hard…
At the same degree of success i would argue that a young boy or girl is wealthier earlier in life than an academic…
And that is precisely were the problem is.
Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira
(TheWeek) Economists find that appearing on hit ITV show boosts your lifetime earnings more than attending Oxford or Cambridge.
A group of economists have revealed that appearing as a contestant on Love Island is more lucrative than a degree from Oxford or Cambridge.
Analysis by Frontier Economics, an economic consultancy, estimated that someone who appears on the show could expect to earn at least £1.1m from subsequent sponsorship and appearance fees, while completing an undergraduate Oxbridge degree would leave you with with a comparatively meagre average return of £815,000.
“If you’ve got an offer from Oxbridge and Love Island, you’re better off going on Love Island,” Kristine Dislere, who completed her masters degree in economics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, told the Financial Times.
In order to estimate how lucrative a stint on the show could be, Dislere and fellow economists made calculations based on a number of factors. These included the typical rates for sponsored Instagram posts, club appearances, how often they appear and how much their earnings will decrease every year.
According to Frontier Economics, contestants who have been in the villa for the full series can be expected to earn £2.3m over the next five years.
Winners can expect to earn more, but not much more. Their expected return is £2.4m.
Even for those slightly less lucky it’s still a good proposition. Someone who is accepted onto the island (at any stage in the series) can expect to make an average of £1.1m once back out in the real world.
And it appears British school leavers “have instinctively come to a similar conclusion, with 85,000 applications to appear on the 2018 series, compared with only 37,000 applications for undergraduate degree courses at Oxford and Cambridge universities combined”, says the FT.
However, Dislere conceded, an academic path might actually be a better bet once acceptance rates are factored in. “One major thing we haven’t included are the odds of getting in [to Love Island], and the odds are stacked against you,” she said.
(OBS) Ao contrário do que sugere o filme A Hora Mais Negra, a decisão britânica de continuar a guerra em 1940 não foi o resultado de sondagens de opinião, mas de uma liderança que “caminhava com o destino”.
A Hora mais negra, que agora anda pelos cinemas à espera de um Óscar para Gary Oldman, não é um documentário histórico, mas apenas um filme, e, como filme, pouco mais do que estimável. Mas como será visto por muito mais gente do que aquela que alguma vez há-de ler Maurice Cowling (The Impact of Hitler), John Charmley (Chamberlain and the Lost Peace), Andrew Roberts (Eminent Churchillians) ou Graham Stewart (Burying Caesar), talvez justifique algumas reflexões. Porque a Primavera de 1940 não foi apenas a origem da lenda de Churchill, mas um dos momentos que definiu o mundo contemporâneo.
Para a elite inglesa, tratava-se de saber se fazia sentido continuar a guerra, depois de Hitler ter subjugado quase toda a Europa ocidental. O filme faz, como é costume, depender a decisão de Churchill. Ao contrário do costume, porém, sugere que não foi fácil. Churchill ainda não era um herói, mas apenas um político desacreditado por trapalhadas e deslealdades. Há porém dois equívocos que o filme mantém. Ao contrário do que parece sugerir, Chamberlain e Halifax, os contrapontos de Churchill, não estavam simplesmente intimidados pelo poderio da Alemanha, nem Churchill alguma vez poderia ter apelado, para desfazer as dúvidas da elite, a uma qualquer opinião popular (que a elite concebia, aliás, como algo relevante, mas controlável através de propaganda e de administração).
Winston Churchill com Neville Chamberlain, primeiro ministro inglês entre 1937 e 1940.
Chamberlain e Churchill, cuja rivalidade prolongava a dos respectivos pais, ficaram como o contrário um do outro. Mas Churchill nunca poderia ter sido primeiro-ministro sem o apoio de Chamberlain (mais decisivo do que o do rei ou dos passageiros do metro no filme). Essa é a chave desta história. Os conservadores tinham conseguido salvar o Reino Unido da ruína da I Guerra Mundial e do colapso da ordem mundial a partir de 1929. Chamberlain, porém, sabia que mais uma grande guerra europeia, fosse qual fosse o seu desfecho, comprometeria de vez o Império Britânico e a ascendência conservadora na Grã-Bretanha. Por isso, tentara tudo para evitar uma guerra.
Churchill, um feroz imperialista e anti-socialista, não era menos apegado ao mundo conservador. Mas estava convicto de que a Inglaterra não podia tolerar um continente dominado pela Alemanha. De facto, Chamberlain pensava o mesmo. Por isso, declarara guerra em 1939, quando se tornou claro que era impossível negociar com Hitler, entretanto reforçado com a aliança da União Soviética. Em 1940, Chamberlain não cedeu por causa da retórica ou de outros apoios de Churchill, mas porque sabia que o seu rival estava certo: era impossível ao Reino Unido aceitar a situação de um Estado cliente da revolução nazi, sem negar tudo aquilo em que, enquanto conservadores, ambos acreditavam.
Gary Oldman como Winston Churchill em A Hora Mais Negra.
A continuação da guerra não foi o resultado de sondagens de opinião, mas da afirmação de uma liderança. Em 1940, Churchill não disse que se sentia em sintonia com a opinião popular, ao contrário do que o filme sugere, mas a “caminhar com o destino”, isto é, com a interpretação providencialista que um grande aristocrata como ele tinha da história do Reino Unido e do seu Império. Para Churchill, aquela era uma batalha que a elite conservadora não podia evitar, custasse o que custasse.
A hora mais negra não foi apenas um momento difícil. Foi a hora mais trágica. Chamberlain estava certo: os conservadores perderam o poder em 1945, e quando voltaram, em 1951, já não havia Índia e as grandes indústrias tinham sido nacionalizadas. O mundo imperial e conservador de Churchill e de Chamberlain desaparecera, e não o devemos confundir com o “atlanticismo” da Guerra Fria. Mas ao sacrificar esse mundo na resistência contra Hitler, Churchill conseguiu isto: associar o velho espírito da liberdade conservadora a um momento de heroísmo, e assim fazer passar esse espírito, transfigurado e desamarrado da sociedade que o cultivara, para o novo mundo – um mundo que já não o percebe, mas ainda o sente, pelo menos numa sala de cinema.
Estou inteiramente de acordo que haja uma fiscalização a sério (a sério nunca houve) sobre as águas do Tejo, e subscrevo integralmente todos os esforços para que a Central Nuclear de Almaraz seja encerrada, e por completo.
Portugal não tem energia nuclear por opção.
Mas é como se tivesse…
A Central de Almaraz tem problemas constantes e recorrentes por ter uma tecnologia muito antiga.
Já há muito que foram ultrapassados todos os prazos de vida da central definidos aquando da sua construção.
Uma central nuclear a 100 kms de Portugal e a 300 kms de Lisboa e no maior rio da Península Ibérica que justamente desagua em Lisboa…
Nunca devia ter sido construída!
As Autoridades do País vizinho afirmam que não existe qualquer problema de contaminação radioactiva.
Mas o que é facto é que existem dezenas de reportagens sobre a população da zona.
Que descrevem uma situação totalmente diferente…
Um elevadíssimo numero de doenças , algumas delas raras, gado que não come e morre, pequenos animais que morrem precocemente, terrenos que se não podem utilizar etc.
E agora há a decisão de lá construir um cemitério nuclear…
O problema é de ambos os Países.
Urge é ser resolvido.
A bem de todos.
Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira
(EXP) Parlamento defende necessidade do Governo pressionar Espanha para fechar Almaraz.
A Assembleia da República defendeu esta quinta-feira a necessidade de o Governo adotar, em parceria com o congénere espanhol, medidas de combate à poluição do rio Tejo e de insistir no encerramento da central nuclear espanhola de Almaraz
O tema de Almaraz foi abordado esta tarde no Parlamento na sequência da discussão de uma petição, da autoria do movimento ambientalista ProTejo, e de seis projetos de resolução.
O texto da petição exorta o Governo português a insistir junto do Governo espanhol na necessidade de proceder ao fecho da central nuclear de Almaraz e a atuar junto das instâncias europeias para que seja cumprida a Diretiva Quadro da Água e feita “uma fiscalização ambiental mais rigorosa à poluição do rio Tejo.
Os projetos de resolução apresentados pelos grupos parlamentares, que serão votados na sexta-feira, foram igualmente no sentido de a tutela tomar uma posição mais forte junto de Espanha para que seja encerrada a central nuclear e pelo aumento das medidas de vigilância e de ação ambiental.
Nesse sentido, durante a discussão, houve um consenso alargado de todas as bancadas para a necessidade de o Governo atuar “com mais firmeza” na defesa do Tejo.
Portugal chegou a apresentar à Comissão Europeia uma queixa contra Espanha, mas acabou por retirá-la depois de um acordo patrocinado pelo executivo comunitário que previa a realização de um estudo de impacto ambiental transfronteiriço, em que o grupo de trabalho criado pelo Governo português considerou o projeto “seguro e adequado”.
A central nuclear de Almaraz localiza-se em Espanha, a 100 quilómetros da fronteira com Portugal.
Rabbi Elisha Salas, right, instructing a baker in Belmonte, Portugal, in the preparation of kosher challah, April 2012. (Courtesy of Shavei Israel)
(JTA) — Portugal’s tallest mountain range, the Serra da Estrela, is famous for its breathtaking waterfalls, turquoise lakes, terraced hillsides and challenging bike paths amid vast woods.
In winter especially, tourists from all over northern Europe flock to the sunny Serra, a thinly populated plateau the size of Rhode Island, for its exquisite wines, world-renowned sheep cheeses and exotic regional dishes (think breaded sweet sardines and Juniper beef stew).
In addition to these delicacies, Serra da Estrela in recent years has also emerged as Portugal’s undisputed powerhouse for kosher food – an unlikely development in a region with about 50 Jews.
Earlier this month, one of Serra da Estrela’s oldest producers of olive oil, Casa Agrícola Francisco Esteves, located in the town of Manteigas, launched a new kosher label in time for Hanukkah, the holiday when Jews celebrate a miracle connected to oil.
In the nearby town of Covilha on the range’s southern tip is the Braz Queijos cheese factory, which in 2009 obtained a kosher certificate for most of its products, becoming the first to do so in Portugal in modern times. Five years earlier, a winery in the same town produced what was said to be Portugal’s first kosher-certified wine in centuries. And in 2010, the town of Belmonte began hosting an annual kosher market ahead of Rosh Hashanah.
Visitors browsing the annual kosher market in Belmonte, Sept. 17, 2017. (Courtesy of Jornal de Belmonte)
This uptick in kosher food production is occurring amid Portugal’s growing awareness of its rich Jewish history. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jews lived in Portugal before 1536, when Portugal’s church and royal house joined the Spanish campaign of expulsion, executions and forced conversions known as the Inquisition.
The kosher trend is a way to “reconnect with our past,” according to Jose Braz, the cheese maker, who is not Jewish.
On a national level, Portugal and Spain have both undertaken extraordinary moves to atone for the Inquisition. In 2015, for example, both countries put into practice laws adopted two years earlier that have permitted some 5,000 descendants of Sephardic Jews to obtain Spanish and Portuguese nationalities. The measures were the world’s first Jewish laws of return since Israel passed its own in 1952.
Coupled with government investments of millions of dollars in Jewish heritage sites, officials in Madrid and Lisbon describe the move as correcting historical wrongs. But some observers believe it is also motivated by a desire to revive the Portuguese and Spanish economies, where unemployment is double the U.S. rate and more than a quarter of adults under 25 are jobless.
“The Sephardic Diaspora can be viewed as a large pool with the potential to benefit Spain and Portugal’s economies, provided that pool can be drawn to visit, settle and invest,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit that runs outreach programs for the descendants of Sephardic Jews.
Officials from both countries regularly cite tourism when spending public funds on restoring and highlighting Jewish heritage sites. For example, the recent $8.25 million investment in Portugal’s Rotas de Sefarad project — a statewide network of routes that highlight Sephardic heritage — “must contribute to strengthening tourism,” Celeste Amaro, a Portuguese Culture Ministry official, told the Journal do Centro newspaper last month.
But in the Serra da Estrela region, where many non-Jews have Jewish roots, gestures toward Judaism are more personal than those of Lisbon, according to Rabbi Elisha Salas, Shavei Israel’s Portugal envoy, who is based in the town of Belmonte. That municipality holds an annual kosher products market under the supervision of Salas, who ensures that the products brought there for sale by local farmers — including honey, olives and bread — meet the requirements of halachah, or rabbinic law.
“I don’t go over their financial reports, but I can’t see a huge demand for kosher products in Portugal that would make a certificate profitable,” he said. “What’s at work here in Belmonte is that you have firms and factories with owners who have Jewish roots, so they seek to get closer to Judaism at least through the products they make.”
That may be true, but the operators of newly kosher ventures seem unwilling to elaborate on that connection.
Patricia Duarte Madeira, the director of the Esteves oil factory, told JTA that she sought a kosher certificate only to serve the needs of customers in Belmonte, which she defined as “one of Portugal’s largest Jewish communities.” (While it’s true the city is home to one of Portugal’s three functioning synagogues, the Jewish population is about 50, according to Salas.) Madeira twice declined to answer when asked whether her family has Jewish roots.
Bakers prepare kosher challah for the Jewish community of Belmonte, April 2012. (Courtesy of Shavei Israel)
Braz, the Serra da Estrela cheese maker, also appeared skittish about his connection to Judaism. Although he had told the Israeli media that he descended from Anusim (Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity) — and he also told JTA that at least one of his grandmothers was aware of her Jewish ancestry and had retained some Jewish customs — he downplayed the matter in the Portuguese media.
“I think all of us here have Jewish DNA, but it’s speculative,” he said in 2009 during an interview with the Publico newspaper about the Israeli media’s interest in his kosher cheese.
Braz noted a 2008 study suggesting that 20 percent of Iberia’s population has Jewish genes.
“But I’m Catholic, I recently hosted the bishop of Guarda at the factory,” he said, adding that his “real interest is cheese,” not genealogy.
Yet many houses in Serra da Estrella require no research to demonstrate their Jewish provenance. In the town of Trancoso, near Covilha, for example, the stone walls of many homes feature well-preserved incisions made during and after the Portuguese Inquisition. Some marks read “horror” in Hebrew when read inversely; some ancient door frame panels include hollows that once would have held a mezuzah.
Visible only in small towns with concentrations of forcefully converted Jews large enough to give them some safety in numbers, the markings were preserved by the former owners as a “way of showing, without saying, that they remember who they really are, where they come from,” said Shavei Israel’s Freund.
The subterfuge extended to the kitchen: The country’s famed Alheira de Mirandela sausage, whose generous amount of garlic tends to overpower the taste of its other ingredients, was especially developed during the Inquisition for Jews who sought to eat kosher while appearing to be consuming pork like the general population.
Freund said such techniques are a testament to the brutality of centuries of persecution that extinguished one of the world’s most illustrious Jewish communities.
“After centuries of silence and persecution, it’s almost inevitable that people with Jewish roots should be careful about advertising it,” he said. “But for people in the food industry, obtaining a kosher certificate is a way of doing so in a tangible way that doesn’t bring up too many personal questions.”
(BBG) Olive oil lovers may finally get a break on their grocery bills, after three years of elevated prices for the staple of Mediterranean cooking.
Deoleo SA, the world’s largest olive oil supplier, expects rising global output in the 2017-2018 season will cut prices for consumers. That may help sales at the company, according to Chief Executive Officer Pierluigi Tosato, who is completing a financial restructuring.
Bigger harvests of the fruit across much of the Mediterranean region will lift oil output by an estimated 12 percent, even as top producer Spain deals with a third year of drought, Tosato said in an interview. “That will push oil prices downwards, giving new breath to the market,” he said in an interview.
In Jaen, a city in southern Spain that’s a trading hub for the oil used in salads and cooking, prices for the finest extra-virgin quality have held above 3 euros ($3.50) a kilogram for most of the past three years, after climbing from less than 2 euros in 2014, according to prices tracked by the European Commission.
Higher prices have pushed homemakers and restaurants to seek cheaper alternatives such as sunflower-seed oil, which trades at about 80 cents a kilogram in Rotterdam. “Many consumers in mature markets such as Spain and Italy have started buying cheaper seed oil. Once they shift, it’s really unlikely they’ll go back” at current prices, Tosato said.
Spain’s annual olive oil consumption fell by about 90,000 metric tons in the past five years, while sunflower-seed oil rose by 140,000 tons, according to Vito Martielli, a grains and oilseeds analyst at Rabobank in the Netherlands. Italians now use around 160,000 tons less olive oil than in 2011, while sunflower-seed oil rose by about 200,000 tons, he said.
Sunflower Is Winner
“If olive oil is not on the market, consumers have to find alternatives,” Martielli said. “We have some substitution in effect, and the oil that’s been winning, by far, is sunflower.”
Revived demand would help Madrid-based Deoleo. The producer of the Carapelli and Bertolli brands is forecasting a return to growth as it completes a restructuring. Its shares have dropped 24 percent this year, the worst performance on the 26-member BI Europe Packaged Food Valuation Peer Group index. Its market value is about one-tenth the 2 billion euros it had in 2007.
The company, which considers itself the largest marketer with a 10.4 percent world value share, is completing a financial restructuring plan and forecasts growth returning. Its shares rose 2.9 percent to 18 euro cents as of 4:20 p.m. in Madrid.
The outlook for a bigger crop may bring relief, with the International Olive Oil Council forecasting 2017-18 global output will rise by about 300,000 metric tons to 2.85 million tons. Spanish benchmark prices for intermediate quality virgin oil fell to about 3.50 euros on Thursday, down from about 3.70 euros a month ago, according to industry price tracker POOLred.
“The Spanish, Italians and Greeks like to consume olive oil — it’s the preferred oil,” said Martielli. “If it’s more affordable, they’ll switch back.”
Higher sales induced by lower prices would constitute only one pillar of the plan Deoleo has set in motion for a business rebound. The other will be a 15 million-euro investment mainly focused on expanding in international markets such as the U.S. and India.
In the U.S. and northwest Europe, as well as in emerging markets including Brazil and India, where olive oil is a niche product that’s appreciated for its health benefits, demand is still good despite high prices, according to Rabobank’s Martielli.
“This year has been a year of transition, the next one is going to be the year of expansion,” Tosato said, in remarks confirmed by his spokesman on Friday. “Our target for 2018 is having no losses after paying interest on debt.”
To achieve its goal, Deoleo can count on the support of its main shareholder, U.K. private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, which holds a 50.01 percent stake. “The relationship with CVC is very good. They see Deoleo as a long-term project and will invest in the company for many years,” said Tosato, who rules out a capital increase for now. “CVC said it will do it if it’s needed. It would be their own decision, but I don’t think it’s necessary.”
The company posted a nine-month loss of 5.4 million euros, down 80 percent from a year earlier. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization dropped 29 percent to 26.8 million euros. Net debt rose 3 percent to 549 million euros.
Deoleo “is always looking for acquisitions, even if the company isn’t yet ready, and would always have the support of CVC” for a potential transaction, Tosato said.
(Visão) Duas exposições em Lisboa para viajar até aos tempos jurássicos: Dinossauros Alive, na Cordoaria Nacional, e Os Dinossauros vão à Estufa, na Estufa Fria
Há um T-Rex em tamanho real, de boca aberta e dentes afiados, na entrada da Cordoaria Nacional, em Lisboa. Não é caso, porém, para se deixar intimidar pelo seu tamanho e ar ameaçador. O mais temido dos dinossauros recebe, amigavelmente, todos os visitantes da exposição Dinossauros Alive. Já lá dentro, são os rugidos de mais de 50 representações de dinossauros que captam o olhar através de diferentes cenários – bosques, desertos e florestas.
A mostra ocupa cerca de cinco mil metros quadrados do edifício. As crianças podem ainda entrar num simulador, fazer uma viagem em realidade virtual e assistir a um filme em 9D, ou participar no ateliê de paleontologia. Haverá ainda um espetáculo, o Dino Show, protagonizado, claro, por dinossauros e outras personagens.
Para ficar a conhecer as plantas que serviram de alimento a estes animais, que se extinguiram há 65 milhões de anos, é rumar também até à exposição Os Dinossauros vão à Estufa, que inaugurou esta sexta-feira, 17, na Estufa Fria, numa parceria da Câmara Municipal de Lisboa com o Centro Ciência Viva de Estremoz e a Escola de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade de Évora. Entre a vegetação, vão estar diversas réplicas em tamanho natural como, por exemplo, do herbívoro Protoceratops a lutar com o carnívoro Velociraptor, um enorme réptil voador, ou da reconstrução feita por um paleontólogo espanhol da mandíbula de um gigantesco tubarão que viveu na zona de Lisboa há milhões de anos e que nos conseguiria engolir com uma única dentada.
Estas representações são ainda acompanhadas por uma coleção de fósseis reais, representativa da evolução da vida na Terra, desde os primeiros vestígios, com cerca de três mil milhões de anos, e exemplares das primeiras plantas que colonizaram os continentes.
Dinossauros Alive > Cordoaria Nacional > R. da Junqueira, 342, Lisboa > até 28 jan, seg-sex 10h-18h, sáb-dom, fer 10h-20h > €11 (adultos), €8 (3-11anos), grátis até 3 anos
Os Dinossauros vão à Estufa > Estufa Fria > Parque Eduardo VII, Lisboa > T. 21 817 0996 > 17 nov-15 abr, seg-dom 9h-17h > €3,10 (adultos), €2,33 (6-18 anos), grátis até 6 anos
(Economist) In Europe, gains in longevity level off with country wealth. But healthy longevity does not
“IN THE end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years,” goes the saying. Many people fear that a trade-off between the two is inevitable: they may live to a very old age, but their final years may be spent in wretched health.
Data from 30 European countries suggest that such a trade-off depends on where people live, and whether they are men or women (see interactive chart below). The number of years of healthy life that the average person can expect comes from a survey asking people about long-term health problems that limit their usual daily activities.
On average, European women who turn 65 can expect to live about three years longer than men at that age, who have a life expectancy of 17.4 years. However, women tend to spend much of that extra time in poor health; the number of healthy years for men and women is the same, at just over nine.
Does it help to live in one of Europe’s richer countries? The data suggest that life expectancy at age 65 rises with a country’s wealth, but only up to a point. The trend levels off at a GDP per person of around $30,000 (adjusted for differences in price levels between countries), which is roughly the dividing line between eastern and western Europe. By contrast, the time spent in good health increases in a linear fashion with a country’s wealth. Italian 65-year-olds, for example, can expect to live about the same number of years as Norwegian ones, even though Norway is much richer than Italy. But Norway’s elderly are likely to spend nearly 80% of their remaining time in good health, whereas those in Italy can hope for just 40%.
This may be a result of countries’ spending on public services and infrastructure. Many characteristic health problems of old age, such as difficulties with hearing or eyesight, are not fatal; but unless they are dealt with, and unless public spaces are adapted to the needs of the elderly, they can make life miserable. Pavements, street signs and pedestrian signals, for example, are often designed for the young and able-bodied. Richer countries have more money to spend on making them better suited to older age groups. That may not extend lifespans, but it can help people make the most of their remaining years.
(Reuters) EMERYVILLE, California – I dream of walking every other night. The dreams aren’t bitter. They’re charged with hope. It was this hope that led me to California to take part in clinical trials for a powered exoskeleton that is designed to help paralysed people like me walk again.
I’ve been using a wheelchair for the past 21 years after one day in May 1996 during what was supposed to be an idyllic vacation on the Greek island of Poros.
One moment I was on a cliff cranking up a rented scooter, still shaking the salty Aegean water off my hair after a swim. The next moment I was on the rocky beach five metres below, on my back. I realized I couldn’t move my legs.
As much as I loathe that day, I know that I was lucky. That goofy plunge I took with the badly parked scooter could have killed me or left me completely paralysed.
Instead, I fractured the 12th dorsal vertebra, right where the rib cage ends. That cost me the movement and feeling in my legs, except for some weak movement and dulled sensation in the upper thigh area.
My chances of recovery were little to none after the long hours my spinal cord remained compressed while I was taken by helicopter to Athens and moved between hospitals.
At 25, it sounded like a death sentence. Then I realized it was more of a life sentence – to lead a different life.
Now here I was in California’s Silicon Valley, thousands of miles from my home in Lisbon, wearing a walking, talking robotic suit called Phoenix, all titanium rods, aluminium-cased motors, wires, straps and protective padding.
When I took my first step, my wife, Liete, gave me a teary-eyed hug. I was too busy keeping my balance to celebrate. It took many more steps and several strenuous sessions before I started to enjoy seeing my wheelchair parked on the other side of the room as I trudged on – first in parallel bars, then with a walker and finally with crutches.
TO FETCH A BOOK
Relatives and friends have bombarded me for years with internet and social media links to the latest research into spinal injury.
It’s a mixed blessing because the research offers hope and yet at the same time shows how little progress there has been in practical terms, at least towards finding a cure.
Stem cell research to treat spinal cord injuries was the big topic 20 years ago. It still offers hope, but scientists say the effectiveness of the treatment is yet to be proven, and there are ethical and health concerns as well.
Experiments with implanted computer chips, sensors and electrodes that send signals from the brain to the muscles, bypassing the injured part of the spinal cord, have enabled some patients to regain some movement in their arms. But I don’t want electrodes in my brain.
Non-invasive systems like electrode caps that pick up brain waves and transform them into tiny electric shocks that make the muscles contract have so far proven too cumbersome.
Which brings me to exoskeletons. They do not claim to be the cure, but they can be a practical aid to making disabled people more mobile.
The original meaning of the word is a protective or supportive shell, like that of a shrimp. More recently it has come to mean an outer frame that not only supports, but also robotically simulates or enhances body movement. That makes paralysed people the perfect target group.
The fact is, we need to be in an upright position regularly or we develop blood circulation and digestive tract problems. We start losing bone mass, which makes leg bones brittle. Our bodies become more susceptible to infections.
A standing frame, where padded straps for the knee, waist and sometimes upper body keep you upright, is usually the solution at home. My frame allows a bit of leg movement, but it is still a mostly static, bulky contraption, which makes standing a rather tedious chore that I tend to skip too often. I am 46 now and the older I get, the less I can afford to skip it for my health.
If I could walk about the house instead, fetch a book or get a breath of air on the patio, that would be a life changer, not to mention the possibility of doing the same in the office or on the street.
THAT ISN’T ME
With time, and a lot of support from my family, friends and Reuters colleagues, I discovered you can get back in the saddle and regain independence.
Returning to work, first to a desk job in my native Moscow and then to reporting assignments in Latin America, was the most important step in that direction. At one point, I took the “back in the saddle” part so literally, I bought a thundering motorized tricycle which I rode with a bunch of Brazilian bikers.
“At 25 it sounded like a death sentence. Then I realized it was more of a life sentence – to lead a different life.”
I reported from slum riots and carnival parades in Rio and from tumultuous election rallies in Venezuela. I learned that even in the most chaotic situations, crowds tend to open a path for a wheelchair and strangers offer to help. I often ended up with a better vantage point than my colleagues.
Slowly, my body adapted. After battling bouts of depression, bladder infections and weight gain, I’ve taken up regular exercise in recent years and am now much fitter, generally in good health and have a moderately optimistic view of the future.
But walking remained off-limits. My leg muscles have largely atrophied, making my calves no thicker than my arms.
Not that I haven’t tried walking. Like many in my situation, I scoffed at the label “confined to a wheelchair,” seeking to prove to myself and others that it doesn’t apply to me. Just like “paralysed from the waist down,” the expression is often technically wrong. To us, every millimetre of working muscle counts.
A couple of months after my injury I was already learning how to walk in a spinal injury rehab centre in Aylesbury, England – on crutches and calipers or full-leg braces that prevent the knee from bending and stabilize the foot.
It was very hard work, especially on my arms and hands, and ultimately proved to be too much. I endured a couple of falls. Calipers just didn’t give me enough confidence to get up on my own or walk more than a few metres away from the exercise rails. The last time I used leg braces, along with a tailcoat and top hat, was on my wedding day in Brazil in 2002.
Over the years I’ve tried other walking aids. All required the assistance of a person called a “spotter” to help me stand. They gave me a very limited range and the speed of a tortoise.
All things considered, life was just easier and I was more independent in a wheelchair.
My home is easily accessible by wheelchair. I can fold it, put it in the car and drive wherever I like. Or I can just roll out onto the street for some air or a drink in a corner bar. Lisbon is not the most wheelchair-friendly place, but more and more buildings have ramps, lifts and adapted toilets.
FEAR OF FALLING
As I prepared for my journey to California in August, I tried to keep my hopes in check. I’d seen videos of paraplegics wearing robotic suits. They were all rather slow and in most cases required crutches for support. They were also generally prohibitively expensive.
If I could put this suit on unaided while in a wheelchair, stand up using crutches and walk around for an hour, that would be good enough for me, I told myself.
I was going to test an exoskeleton called Phoenix, which draws on technology developed at the University of California, Berkeley. The testing I signed up for is needed to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. SuitX, the company developing the Phoenix, says it will be the lightest and most affordable version on the market.
SuitX’s CEO, Homayoon Kazerooni, is a professor and director of the Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory at the university. SuitX already makes industrial exoskeletons used, for instance, by airport baggage handlers.
Most exoskeletons have motors or hydraulics powering the hip and knee joints, but the Phoenix has only two motors at the hips, powered by a battery in a small backpack. Hinges keep your knees straight when your weight is on them and allow your lower leg to swing when you take a step.
Phoenix and I did not hit it off right away. In fact, had it just been a test drive and not the intensive two-week programme I had signed up for, I probably would have decided that it was not for me.
As much as I had told myself not to expect miracles, I was all psyched up for one. I even came to California wearing a pair of old boots from the time when I could walk. “These boots are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do,” I hummed the old Nancy Sinatra hit as I laced them up. For more good luck, my wife and I picked a local cafe called “Can’t Fail” to start the first day of tests with a hearty breakfast.
The first disappointment came during the fitting session, when my boots were discarded. I had to wear special shoes to fit the metal soles of the exoskeleton, as well as tight ankle braces to stabilize my debilitated joints.
Standing up was tumultuous, with the physiotherapist and two other employees helping me through the process, which still required a good push off the bars.
Then came my first step. I had been ready to repeat Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” phrase, half in jest, but it got stuck in my throat. I was gripped by a fear of falling. The device felt more wobbly than I imagined. The time it took to regain my balance and shift my weight forward for my next step seemed like an eternity. My knees were half-bent because my hamstrings had contracted so much from sitting for so many years. My hands hurt from nervously gripping the parallel bars.
I was unimpressed, demoralised even, so Liete took me for a scenic drive in the hills near Berkeley, and later we indulged in comfort shopping and some Napa Valley wines. It helped. I slept well and woke up rested and looking forward to getting inside the exo-suit again.
Then I met Steve Sanchez, who has been SuitX’s “chief pilot” for the past five years and uses the device regularly. The ease with which he stood up from his wheelchair and walked about revived my spirits.
It took me several more days to overcome my panic and feel more or less comfortable on my feet. I could stand up, walk and sit down with a spotter. A female voice from a speaker in the suit’s frame encouraged me to keep moving. “Left, right, left,” it said in time with my steps.
My hands no longer hurt as much. At night when I couldn’t sleep I would go over my moves – where I’d failed, what I’d done right – so my walking would be slightly better the next day. In our downtime, we visited San Francisco’s museums and galleries and met friends. Recounting my experience to them helped me figure out that I was actually enjoying the testing more than I thought.
My rookie mistake, I realized, was not trusting the machine and trying to compensate for what I thought were its shortcomings with my own bumbling efforts to support myself and move my legs. After almost two weeks of training, walking was still a lot of hard work, but I was getting faster and gaining endurance.
My health was better, too. A long-time sciatic pain was gone. I even managed to shake off a bad cold, which would normally have landed me in bed. To me, the improvements were tangible.
At the end of the programme, the distance I covered during a set time interval had doubled since the mid-term test. I performed the theme from the classic movie about two Olympic runners, “Chariots of Fire,” as I approached the finishing line.
I’m starting to put aside money for a Phoenix because walking is a practical goal, not just a dream anymore.
The main commercial prospects for exoskeletons are in areas such as construction, baggage handling and other heavy manual labour, researchers say.
Exo-suits that raise productivity and reduce work-related injuries are less complex and face fewer regulatory hurdles than robotic suits designed for victims of spinal injury or stroke.
Advances in suits for industry “will speed the development of low cost, more functional rehabilitation/enable systems,” said Dan Kara, research director at technology market intelligence firm ABI Research. “It’s a virtuous circle.”
ABI projects that robotic exoskeleton sales will jump from $97 million globally in 2016 to $1.9 billion by 2025. It predicts almost a quarter of the 100,000 suits sold in 2025 will be for people with disabilities.
Better and cheaper battery technologies and stronger, lightweight materials will help drive this growth, analysts say.
Dozens of firms are developing medical exoskeletons, from start-ups to large companies like Korea’s Hyundai, which plans to launch a demo version of its H-Mex prototype in 2019.
Soft exo-suits worn like garments are being tested in the university labs of ETH Zurich and Harvard.
Nasdaq-listed ReWalk Robotics is a market leader. Like most exoskeletons, ReWalk has a hard frame with motors at the hip and knee joints that enable users to get up and walk, mimicking a natural gait. A battery pack is worn on the back and crutches are used for balance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the suit, with a list price of $77,000, for clinical and home use.
Competitors include Parker Hannifin with its $80,000 Indego, and similarly-priced Ekso by Ekso Bionics, a pioneer of exo-suit rehabilitation for stroke victims.
The REX, made by New Zealand-based company REX Bionics, is self-balancing and requires no crutches. Its price starts at $99,000.
The Phoenix suit I tested uses two motors at the hips and mechanical hinges at the knee. SuitX, the company behind Phoenix, aims to sell the Phoenix at around $30,000 initially but wants to cut the price by about half over time, according to its chief executive, Homayoon Kazerooni, a professor at the University of California.
Kazerooni said that when the cost of an exoskeleton becomes comparable to the price of a powered wheelchair, health insurers could be persuaded to pay for exo-suits.
“Technology has to reach people faster than the rate we see these days,” he said.
(NH) Trophy hunting fees help fund conservation. Critics say the benefits are exaggerated and that killing big game animals is wrong.
By Michael Paterniti
Photographs by David Chancellor
This story appears in the October 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.
The people in this story agreed to be photographed on condition that their names be withheld.
Elephants kept appearing in wrinkled herds, loitering near the dusty pans, in search of water. With the September temperature pushing a hundred degrees at midday, the pachyderms were moving at the edge of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia in a community-run wildlife reserve, or conservancy, called Nyae Nyae, where roughly 2,800 San people live today in unyielding conditions.
The elephants left snapped branches and warm scat in their wake. When they caught our scent, our sweat mixing with the sun-scorched grasses, they broke into a trumpeting jog and were gone.
Later, more materialized on the horizon, in the shade of the camel thorn trees, shades themselves. For such enormous creatures, they were nearly invisible but to the sharpest eyes. And those eyes belonged now to Dam, a short, compact man, a tracker from the local San people who stood in the back of the Land Cruiser.
“Oliphant!” he cried, leaning hard over the right side of the vehicle, picking out tracks in the sand. He tapped on the door, and we came to a whiplashing halt. Dam jumped down, checking a footprint, its edges corrugated and etched inside with smaller bubbles. He motioned, and Felix Marnewecke, the professional hunter and guide on this expedition, popped out of the driver’s side door. Strapping, ruddy, and blond, in his 40s, he seemed straight from central casting, wearing a cloth hat and shorts. He stood over the impression for a moment, a quizzical expression on his face, and nodded his head in agreement. If Nyae Nyae’s desert scrub is home to San families, it is also home to some of the last, biggest wild elephants in the world. This footprint was proof.
The rest of us unloaded, followed by the tracker they only ever called the Old Man, another tracker in training, and one more San, who was acting as a “game guard” to make sure the hunt was conducted in accordance with the conservancy’s rules and quotas. Last to emerge in that swelter was the client himself, an American businessman, who opened the passenger door and reached up to the rack for his gun, a 12-pound, bespoke .470 Nitro Express double rifle. These guns, costing up to $200,000, are favored for big-game trophy hunting because of their stopping power, and this is what he was here for, of course—a trophy. Two of them, actually. An avid hunter whose adventures had led him to Central Asia to shoot Marco Polo sheep at 15,000 feet and to Africa to shoot a leopard, he was now back in Africa for elephants.
According to Marnewecke, the going rate for a 14-day, single elephant hunt is about $80,000. The trophy hunt limit of five elephants a year in Nyae Nyae represents real money to the San. A portion of the fee is paid directly to community members and to a fund for conservation projects to protect the area’s wildlife. As for the elephant trophies themselves, the client would take the tusks home, while the meat would all go to the San.
Marnewecke and his client—anonymous at his request, given the controversial nature of elephant hunts—hoisted their rifles over their shoulders and fell in behind Dam, who took off at the speed of a jackrabbit. Marnewecke turned to me and said, as I stumbled to keep up, “I swear, there’s no better tracker in Africa. If it takes 30 miles, he never gives up.”
From Charles Darwin and John James Audubon to Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway, the most enlightened hunters have long viewed themselves as naturalists and conservationists, committed to sustainability among animal populations and the preservation of wild places where they stalk game. The linkage has become inextricable. Revenues of hundreds of millions in federal excise taxes levied on hunters go directly to wildlife management and related activities each year in the U.S. alone. And anyone who keeps a freezer full of venison is likely to tell you that the act of killing your own dinner in the wild is more humane than buying the plastic-wrapped meat of industrially raised livestock.
But trophy hunting today, especially of the so-called big five in Africa (elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, and Cape buffalo), brings with it a larger set of moral and financial questions. The sport killing of animals beleaguered in the wild can arouse fierce opposition, even more so if the animal—Cecil the Lion, for example—is named. Biologists estimated total losses of large mammals in protected areas on the continent at up to 60 percent between 1970 and 2005. As big game populations dwindle further under pressure from human encroachment, shifting climate norms, and widespread criminal poaching, there are hunters—the American client in Nyae Nyae, for one—who argue that a thoughtfully regulated and expensive hunt for bull elephants in their waning days makes a sustainable way to protect both species and habitat.
On we went, following the footprints. Every so often Dam would retrace his steps, circling in the dust, until we slowed to a more careful crawl. Coming over a knoll, we saw them at last, Loxodonta africana—what seemed to be three bulls, munching on leaves and grass. Marnewecke reached for his binoculars, the American client took his rifle in hand. Everything narrowed to a nervous point. African elephants live to be 60 or 70, and the biggest tuskers usually are older than 45. Tusks are measured by weight, and anything estimated to be over 50 pounds is considered a “shooter” by hunters. The client was looking for something in the 70-plus-pound range, but in the end these elephants’ tusks were too small. Marnewecke made his determination, turned on his heel, and began walking back to the Land Cruiser. No one seemed disappointed exactly: It was almost enough to have stood in the suburbs of such magnificent creatures.
“The shooting is the last 5 percent of an elephant hunt,” Marnewecke said. “I feel quite shitty when an elephant dies, but those elephants pay for the conservation of the other 2,500 that move through here. Trophy hunting is the best economic model we have in Africa right now.” It was an argument I’d soon hear other hunters make and a host of activists and biologists tear apart. “In the end it may save this place—and the elephants too.”
Standing in the heat and dust of the Kalahari that bright day, elephants at our back, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is that really how this works? Can you really kill five elephants to save 2,500? Or start from the other side: Why kill one at all?
Seen from the air Africa can appear as an illusion, rich velds and dramatic rifts, wide deserts and thundering rivers, these seemingly vast stretches of unfettered, unpopulated wild ostensibly forgotten by time and people. At a glance it could be a repository for all our ideas about wilderness at its wildest. And yet today no patch here goes unclaimed, whether it’s marked, monetized, or fought over. The animals that roam the land have become commodified, part of a new consumerism, marketed and sold, their brands pitted against each other, their continued existence now a question of human demand, whim, and calculation. Wild game is the continent’s version of crude oil—and it too will run out someday.
Trophy hunting—the killing of big game for a set of horns or tusks, a skin, or a taxidermied body—has burgeoned into a billion-dollar, profit-driven industry, overseen in some cases by corrupt governments. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa allow trophy hunting, with varying degrees of transparency and control, establishing yearly quotas meant to reflect the status of species and creating exclusions for highly vulnerable populations. South Africa, for instance, no longer allows hunting of leopards. Kenya has banned trophy hunting outright since 1977, and in Botswana, a comparatively wildlife-rich country, a temporary ban in government-controlled hunting areas went into effect in 2014.
Africa once seemed to have “an inexhaustible supply of nature,” says American lion biologist Craig Packer, who has lived and worked on the continent for more than 40 years. But, he says, from 30,000 feet you would see that the habitats are shrinking. “Lions really are becoming more of an endangered species, and hunters should really not shoot these animals for sport unless they can provide positive evidence that they’re having a salutary effect on lion conservation.”
Biologists make the same argument against the hunting of other big game, including elephants, whose numbers across the continent have fallen sharply in recent years. Demand for rhino horn, elephant ivory, and lion bones, especially in Asia, has ignited a scourge of poaching. But the issue remains complicated, with some place-specific animal populations, such as the elephants of Nyae Nyae, thriving where there’s trophy hunting.
“If you get rid of those conservancies in Namibia,” Packer says, “you’d probably get rid of all the wildlife and be left with cattle.” He says he and other biologists “are concerned with populations, and that’s an abstraction. That’s where the real conflict with the animal-rights organizations comes, because in their mind, Fifi must never die. That’s where the biologists can sound pretty heartless and cold.” For Packer, saving an individual animal misses the point; what’s crucial is protecting genetically viable populations as a whole. “I’m not against hunting. There’s got to be a middle ground,” he says. In his estimation, though, that middle ground isn’t exactly in the middle: He believes that trophy hunting is of marginal value as a large-scale conservation tool in Africa.
On the other hand, hunters and government officials often cite a hotly contested estimate by the Safari Club International Foundation, a pro-hunting group with the stated goal of promoting conservation and education, that the roughly 18,000 trophy hunters who come to southern and eastern Africa each year contribute $436 million to the region’s GDP. The Humane Society International says the amount for that region is at most $132 million, or .03 percent of GDP.
In a 2013 op-ed in the New York Times countering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to list lions as a threatened species, making it more difficult for Americans to hunt them, the Tanzanian wildlife director, Alexander Songorwa, stated that hunters on 21-day lion safaris paid government fees of up to $10,000 and pumped $75 million into the economy from 2008 to 2011. Packer says the 120,000 square miles of hunting areas in Tanzania need $600 million in investment every year, “and you’re not going to get that shooting lions for $10,000.”
For some, the hunting-antihunting debate boils down to Western environmentalists trying to dictate their agenda to Africa—a form of neocolonialism, as Marnewecke puts it. “Who gives anybody the right, sitting in another continent, to preach to us how we should manage our wildlife?” Hunters make the point that with all the outfitters paying to operate in conservancies and with trophy hunters paying fees for the game they shoot, hunting indeed has made significant financial contributions to the continent, and to habitat protection, while all that antihunting forces have done is make noise.
As for what happens to the hunters’ fees, that is notoriously hard to pin down—and impossible in kleptocracies. And anyway, Packer says, when it comes to funding lion conservation, “it’s such an underwhelming amount generated by sport hunting, it’s no wonder that despite years of lion hunting being allowed in these countries, the lion population has plummeted.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which monitors animal populations, reports that the number of lions in five populations in Tanzania fell by two-thirds from 1993 to 2014.
In Nyae Nyae in 2016 the German hunter who shot the kudu seen in the preceding photograph takes aim. He later killed an old bull elephant. Hunters argue that killing old bulls does the least harm to the species, but biologist Joyce Poole says older male elephants are “the primary breeders. They’re role models for younger males and chosen mates for females.”
Yet hunters say they’ve helped fund everything from health clinics to schools to water wells to boots-on-the-ground assistance against poachers, all while leaving a lighter footprint on the land than the often cited alternative to killing game: wildlife-watching in the form of photographic safaris. The UN World Tourism Organization estimated that 35.4 million international tourists visited sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 and spent $24.5 billion. Operations designed to attract a higher-end clientele that craves a warm shower, big meal, and cool drink at the end of the day require infrastructure and equipment, maybe including a fleet of vehicles.
There’s a danger, some hunters argue, that too many tourists will spoil the very experience they’re seeking. “The Serengeti is amazing,” says Natasha Illum-Berg, a Swedish-born professional buffalo hunter based in Tanzania, who, like Marnewecke, leads clients into the bush for “hunting experiences” and trophies. “The Ngorongoro Crater is a miracle. All these national parks that are filled with minibus after minibus of photographic tourists—it’s fantastic,” she says, noting that the minibuses also put pressure on those iconic wildlands. “But what about the other areas?” she says. “How many people have been to the area I work in, that’s 500 square miles? This year maybe 20 people.” Without trophy hunting, Illum-Berg argues, there would be no antipoaching there, no management. “I keep on saying: Give me a better idea than hunting as long as it’s sustainable.” She adds, “The big question in the end is, ‘Who’s going to pay for the party?’ ”
The earliest evidence of an elephant having been killed by human hands dates back to a blue-mud swamp in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago. The spine of a woolly mammoth found at the confluence of the Ob and Irtysh Rivers seems to have been penetrated by a man-made weapon that left flake traces of stone inside one of the vertebrae. The tusks, we might imagine, weren’t displayed in a trophy room back at the hunter’s cave.
But hunting is more than a quid pro quo for sustenance. At some moment in our dawning consciousness, hunting became equated with status, virility, and power. Assyrian carvings from 650 B.C. depict lions being released from cages for slaughter by a chariot-riding king. The Maasai have long killed lions as a rite of passage.
With the advent of better weaponry, hunting also evolved as a sport, one with class stratifications, micro-cultures, and occasional egregious examples of waste. In records from 1760 for Snyder County, Pennsylvania, two hunters shot more than a thousand animals, including black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, wolves, foxes, bison, elk, deer, wolverines, and thousands more smaller creatures, dressing some of the animals and throwing most of the carcasses into a bonfire.
Skinners in Namibia in 2011 hold up the pelt of a leopard shot by an American hedge fund manager. Leopards are elusive, and dogs helped track this one down. Namibia later banned the use of dogs because leopard numbers were falling dangerously.
Theologians were among the first to criticize such wasteful butchery. By the late 1700s an anonymous British hunter had penned The Sportsman’s Companion, or An Essay on Shooting, advocating fair chase and setting forth “directions to gentlemen” in the field and forest, including limiting the number of game animals killed. Those rules were expanded and refined during the next century. In 1887 Teddy Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club, a group of influential American hunters who were worried about preserving swaths of their country’s wilderness and became instrumental in building the U.S. National Park System.
In 1934 at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, some white hunters established the East African Professional Hunters’ Association. It promulgated a kind of honor code and pushed for laws and regulations, including a ban on shooting nearly all female animals and on shooting animals at water holes or near vehicles. While the members worked to conserve hunting grounds, they also eliminated huge amounts of game from the continent. Today technology has taken a quantum leap forward, with drones, video of the hunt, and high-powered rifles equipped with laser range finders.
Meanwhile “kill shots”—images of hunters posed with their dead quarry—have created viral sensations and stirred animal-rights activists and the general public to fulsome disgust. People were inflamed when Minneapolis dentist Walter Palmer hunted and killed Cecil, the popular lion from Zimbabwe, in June 2015. Controversy resurfaced in July 2017 when Cecil’s son Xanda was shot on a legal trophy hunt.
With more than half the planet’s population living in cities, our relationship with the wild has become increasingly divorced from our everyday reality. We’re now less a part of that wild world from rain forest to veld than consumers of it. Yet if we eat meat or wear and use leather products, we too are hunters of a sort.
Within the hunting community our hurry-up, have-it-all mentality—our ceaseless consumptive entitlement—has begun to manifest itself in troubling ways. Eschewing the time and cost of an African trophy hunt involving fair chase, some hunters have turned to canned hunting—the killing of often habituated animals in confined areas—baited hunting, herding animals with helicopters, or the shooting of their prey from the back of Land Cruisers. In Tanzania there have been reports of foreign hunters gunning down animals, including pregnant females, with AK-47s. In a hunting area called Loliondo that the government has leased long term to officials from the United Arab Emirates, local Maasai have reported transport jets leaving with game of all variety, dead and alive. Social scientists writing recently in the journal Biology Letters describe a kill-and-tell generation of hunters exhibiting “show-off behavior” by propagating their own kill shots on social media, sometimes in poses that undermine the dignity of the animal whose life they’ve just taken.
Left: Radio-collared dogs tracked this mountain lion and chased it up a tree. Using dogs allows the hunter to get a clean shot, but opponents say it’s unethical because a treed cat has no means of escape. Several states have banned hound hunting of mountain lions.Right: A state conservation office will inspect and tag this mountain lion before the hunter takes home the head and skin. Hunters consider stalking a mountain lion one of North America’s great challenges—it can entail hiking miles in bitter cold up steep, snowy hills in search of the animal.
In South Africa, which has some 2,000 wild lions, canned lion hunting has grown into a more than $100 million industry, with in excess of 200 facilities raising about 6,000 of the big cats for easy killing. According to Ian Michler, a South African safari operator and photographer who investigated the canned lion industry for the 2015 documentary Blood Lions, the animals are caged and bred sometimes under terrible conditions. The young are taken from their mothers and brought to petting zoos. When male lions grow into adulthood, many are shot and killed for “hunting” fees that are much lower than the cost for a wild lion on a standard 21-day hunt ($5,000 to $15,000, versus $50,000 and up). And the trophy is virtually guaranteed. “It’s appalling,” Michler says. “It’s perverse behavior.”
Canned hunting has another deleterious effect. While hunters happily take the pelt and head, and the claws and teeth once were sold in the tourist shops of Nairobi and Zanzibar, today the bones are most in demand—shipped to Asia either to produce traditional medicines or to be repackaged as “tiger bone wine,” made from crushed bones and Chinese herbs and marketed to the upper class as a health tonic and aphrodisiac. This year South Africa authorized the export of up to 800 lion skeletons, and the worry among biologists, conservation groups, and animal-rights activists is that by legitimizing and allowing the trade, the country is spurring more demand for lion bones and more killing of the continent’s remaining 20,000 or so wild lions.
As it turns out, some of the most vocal critics of these hunting practices are hunters themselves.
“If we are not able to convince the majority of people that hunting is morally in order,” says Kai-Uwe Denker, a renowned professional hunter in Namibia, “there is no future for us.” In the face of bad publicity and bad behavior, some hunters have fallen back on an economic argument—that their presence in Africa provides jobs, that it’s a viable strategy for poverty alleviation. But Denker disagrees. “I see a very big danger in promoting only the financial side. Livelihoods, income generation, job creation—this is an additional thing. You cannot justify immoral things with money.”
When I met Denker in a valley in the Erongo Mountains, where he lives 25 miles off the grid in a house he built, he lamented the intrusion of humans on the African landscape. According to him, hunting, when done properly, brings you into “a conversation with your own death.” As we spoke in the shaded portico, the sun flashed off a blanched elephant skull set nearby, and the wind stirred the acacia, blowing away a certain noon deadness that often grips the desert. Time seemed to bend to the prehistoric. Tall and slender, wearing a torn shirt and short shorts, Denker is legendary for walking up to 40 miles in a day of hunting. He also abides by a strict set of principles that includes hunting game, such as elephant and kudu, that have unfenced free range in historic habitat and shooting only older nonreproductive animals without fixating on large trophies.
“Many of the antihunters, they criticize hunting as perverted,” Denker said. “Hunting as such is not perverted. It’s in our genes. If hunting is immoral,” he continued, “I will stop immediately. But it will be the end of nature.”
If it pays, it stays. It was a phrase I heard over and over again, in myriad discussions about African conservation, in part to describe how money has changed the mind-set of rural populations regarding the value of big game. Too often people have seen an elephant destroy their annual crop, and some have known the pain of a lurking lion taking a child for food. Here there’s no mythologizing or fetishizing, no fund-raising around a fuzzy face: The leopard is a killer, the rhino is a ruiner. To protect themselves against the enemy, villagers often shoot and poison these intruders, without an iota of sentimentality. And yet, the argument goes, if those animals are worth money to a local community, that community will work hard to conserve and protect its assets.
This is something I witnessed firsthand. My time in the Kalahari coincided with Nyae Nyae’s annual game count, in which 50 or so San camped for three nights at various water holes, trying to account for the number of animals within 3,500 square miles of sand, bush, and baobab trees.
As fragile as it is, Nyae Nyae might be called a conditional success story, in part because the hunt quotas have been methodically monitored and increased over the years. On occasion cattle have threatened to overrun the conservancy, but the big game have returned, and the menu of animals offered to hunters includes leopard, kudu, and wildebeest, with prices set by a management committee of five members of the conservancy. Profits are shared communally: Last year each adult over 18 in Nyae Nyae was issued about $70. “We have enough,” the chief, Bobo Tsamkxao, told me as he sat in his yard in front of a disintegrating house, his wives sitting in a row among children and litter. The arrangement also requires that the professional hunter employ and train local people and contribute toward development projects such as schools and health clinics.
Nyae Nyae became Namibia’s first conservancy, locally owned and run, in 1998. Every five years the conservancy is put up for tender, with professional hunters offering bids to the San for the right to establish an on-site operation. Last year the winning bid was more than $400,000, a rich number in large part because the elephants have become so big and valuable. The professionals sell hunting packages to clients to recoup the tender offer, cover expenses, and make a profit. Many operate on more than one conservancy; some string together enough to build their own little fiefdoms.
When I was there, in September 2016, Marnewecke had just learned that he’d been outbid and would lose his Nyae Nyae operation by season’s end. “I’ll miss the San,” he said, but he had another conservancy to the north that would keep him busy. What worried him most was the Jenga-like fragility of Nyae Nyae, and that irresponsible people might come with their own selfish designs—crisscrossing the conservancy with new roads and upsetting the equilibrium.
Left: This black bear, shot by a hunter in Maine, is at a state fisheries and wildlife station, where one of its teeth will be collected. The tooth allows wildlife authorities to determine the animal’s age and reconstruct bear numbers to better manage the population.Right: The hunter removed the bear’s heart, which is shot through with a bullet. Many hunters pride themselves on “nose to tail” eating—consuming not just the meat but sometimes the kidneys, liver, and heart too. The heart can be pickled, fried, or slow cooked. It can be ground up for taco meat or spaghetti sauce.
While Namibia has turned wildlife management over to the local population, governments in places such as Tanzania have taken an opposite tack, directly owning and leasing hunting grounds. Critics say that no country should be in the business of selling and profiting from dead animals. When coffers run low and funds are needed, they say, hunting quotas get raised without regard for the animals’ population numbers. And in those hunting areas where funds aren’t reinvested, there’s no wildlife left to hunt. That could explain how 40 percent of Tanzania’s designated hunting areas have been emptied of game animals during recent decades. A promotional video that surfaced in 2014 shows a hunting company, Green Mile Safari, guiding hunters from the United Arab Emirates on a disturbing shooting party. The minister of tourism and natural resources said the party violated a host of laws by, among other things, firing automatic weapons, hunting female and young animals, and allowing a minor to hunt. The government banned Green Mile from conducting hunts in Tanzania in 2014 but reissued the company’s license last year, leading to accusations of corruption. No arrests were made, and Green Mile claims that the guide was at fault.
In the Selous Game Reserve ecosystem, a prized trophy hunting destination, aerial surveys estimate the elephant population at some 15,000, down from perhaps 50,000 as recently as 2009. “Why has the Selous been such a killing field?” says Katarzyna Nowak, a conservation scientist associated with the University of the Free State, Qwaqwa, in South Africa. “If hunters are coming in from all around the world, and you’re really pumping money earned from trophies back into the Selous for conservation and antipoaching, where have all the elephants gone?”
Craig Packer sees the conservation of African wildlife in practical terms: If hunters were shooting lions “for a million dollars and returning a million per lion directly into management, they would be on solid ground. But lions are shot for tens of thousands of dollars, and very little of that money goes back to conservation.” With two billion dollars a year we could save and protect the wildlife in Africa’s national parks, Packer says. But that would have to come from international partners such as the World Bank, eco-philanthropists, and nongovernmental organizations.
Some trophy hunters say it’s not fair to blame them. Make of their sport what you will, they don’t set the fees or determine the quotas. And they can’t control endemic corruption in some countries, even if they indirectly feed it. Some claim to share the concerns of environmentalists who see collapsing habitats and dwindling populations. Kevin Reid, a big-game ranch owner in Texas, says he raises endangered African species not only for the sport of trophy hunters but also to create “a seed vault of animals,” including oryx and white rhinos, to help rewild Africa once its problems have been sorted. “We’re trying to reverse extinction,” Reid says. In the never ending ironies of the issue, though, the near extinction of African elephants, rhinos, and lions comes today courtesy of the barrel of a gun.
Perhaps, then, it boils down to another set of questions: In light of who we’ve become as a species, what new form has nature taken, and what new rules might be practiced there? Might we owe it to the natural world, after bunging it up so badly, to act differently—less acquisitively, more generously—toward it? Might it now be time to stop killing the dwindling herds for sport and display? Or, perhaps more difficult to ponder: Will these trophies be all we have left someday, tokens of a wild nature we once knew?
On the 12th day of the elephant hunt in Nyae Nyae, in the rising heat of the day, Dam, the tracker, picked up the marks of three bulls moving together. Once Marnewecke and his client saw the elephants from a mile away, they knew they were big and approached them from downwind so as not to be detected. Two of the bulls were in front of them, but the largest and oldest stood apart and behind. So they maneuvered out around the others and came up on the third as he began to walk toward a clump of brush. The client crouched low on one side as the old bull—sagging and on his sixth molars, half ground down already, which means he was well on in the last season of his life—unwittingly ate on the other side.
Would killing an old bull like this one help save all those other elephants in Nyae Nyae?
Old bulls, says Caitlin O’Connell, a biologist and elephant researcher focused on how the animals communicate, are a font of wisdom, deciding when and where the herd will move in search of water, imposing an order on pachyderm society. “Contrary to myth, elephant bulls are very social creatures,” she says. “They move in groups of up to 15, and they maintain a strict hierarchy. The older bulls exert a very important regulatory impact on the herd and an emotional-social influence on the younger bulls.” Younger bulls in musth, a heightened state of aggression during which testosterone levels can be 10 times as high as normal, will be more likely to fight each other when an older bull is absent.
At 15 yards, the client could see every wrinkle draping the elephant. He aimed his 12-pound double rifle with its hand-engraved silver stock and fired directly at the heart. The bull turned and began to run, 30 yards before it fell. The client put one more shot in the brain, and it was done. The tusks weighed out at more than 70 pounds each. Within six hours the carcass had been stripped by the San, who took roughly three tons of meat for their families.
Two days later the hunting party found another big bull. The client fired a shot, bringing it down—but then, as another bull gave chase, he and Marnewecke ran for at least half a mile before the elephant lost interest in them. Eventually the process repeated: the flensing of the skin, the stripping of the bone, the feeding of families. With that elephant, Marnewecke’s quota for the year was filled. His client flew home; the tusks of the two elephants would follow, destined for his trophy room back in America.
I thought about those tusks in the weeks that followed, possessions now, totems of a fraught accomplishment. They were all that was left of two 15,000-pound sentient beings. Which brought me to Bobo Tsamkxao, the San chief, and his wives and children, and how they and others in the community would eat from those animals. And how they would receive money, at least indirectly, from those animals as well. But something still seemed askew: a paying client killing a vulnerable animal to feed the San or conserve Nyae Nyae’s land. Even if hunting is in our genes, as Denker said, the essential question remained: Was it moral to kill such an imperiled creature at this moment in our history?
After the hunters had packed up, the herds—sometimes called a “parade” of elephants, or even a “memory” of elephants—searched for water in temporary peace, unaware that another season would bring another group of hunters. We must imagine: Memories of elephants wandering all that contested space, some already with price tags on their head, there for us as things of wonder.
(BBG) Don’t knock it just because the award’s from TripAdvisor.
If you had to describe a restaurant declared the best in the world, you might think of somewhere distinctly glamorous.
I’ve eaten at six establishments that have held that title. My travels have taken me to glorious locations, from a hillside villa overlooking the sea in Catalonia to the back streets of Modena, Italy.
I never expected to journey to a village pub deep in the countryside of northern England—reached by a narrow and winding road—where the first thing you see when you finally arrive is a group of locals enjoying a pint of beer on a bench outside.
But it’s not a meaningless accolade, and don’t knock it just because it’s from a mass-market online travel site.
In fact, it looks like it may be almost life-changing for chef Tommy Banks and his family.
“If I’m honest, when someone told me, I thought it sounds like a bit of a spoof, someone pulling our leg or some sort of scam,” Banks said in an interview in the stone-paved bar, with a log fire, paneled walls and a blackboard listing cocktails. “We never imagined quite how big it would become. Things just went crazy. The phone rang off the hook, and e-mails, e-mails, e-mails. We took 1,200 bookings in four hours, and that has filled us up for the rest of the year. There were reporters outside when I came in the next morning to cook breakfast and we had TV trucks all day. We had 90,000 people on our website in one afternoon.”
He said the reaction was much bigger than when he first won a Michelin star in 2013 at age 24, or more recently when his business got a bump after he appeared on the BBC television show, the Great British Menu.
I would argue TripAdvisor is not the best guide to eating out. Many of the reviewers know little about food, which can result in unusual recommendations.
For example, the site’s London Top 10 features some unlikely restaurants. First place is taken by The Peninsula, a hotel dining room in Canary Wharf. I have never been, so I am not criticizing it, but I’ve never even heard it mentioned. It’s a similar story for Gastronhome, a French bistro on Lavender Hill, which is placed third. I had to Google that one. The Foyer at Claridge’s places sixth, outranking the hotel’s Fera restaurant, which features on most lists.
But the TripAdvisor awards, which started in 2012, have some claim to importance. Rather than being picked by a panel of insiders or experts, the restaurants on the list are based on an algorithm that takes into account the quantity and quality of millions of reviews around the world over a 12-month period. Another U.K. restaurant, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, places second, and third is Maison Lameloise, in Chagny, France.
So how does the Black Swan measure up? It is actually very good.
The only option is a tasting menu for £95 ($126) that focuses on local produce, much of it from the countryside around the pub and some of it from the garden at the back. Banks’ parents, who are farmers, bought the North Yorkshire pub and converted it into a restaurant. Tommy Banks is head chef, while his brother James runs the front of house. The family has farmed around Oldstead for generations. The main dining room is a small upstairs space above the bar, with bare tables and a low ceiling supported by beams where you might bang your head.
When I visited on Saturday, the meal started with snacks of langoustine on a spruce skewer, with caramelized whey and fermented strawberry; a dumpling of confit chicken legs wrapped in brioche; and raw Dexter beef fed on beer, with grated chestnuts and smoked bone marrow.
The first of the four mains was cod topped with grated roasted cauliflower, served on a parsley sauce, with just the right mixture of softness and crunch. Then there was a beautiful dish of Crapaudine beetroot slowly cooked in beef fat, topped with pickled beetroot, smoked roe, goat’s curd and linseed. I personally dislike beetroot, but this had an almost toffee-like sweetness and texture, the elements perfectly balanced.
A large scallop steamed in apple juice was sliced and served with fermented celeriac and a sauce with dill oil. James Banks, serving my table, told me the name of the farmer who had shot my fallow-deer venison, served rare with a black garlic glaze, accompanied by a taco-like brussels sprout leaf with slow-cooked shoulder, fermented turnip and blobs of sloe puree.
(I have to watch my sugar intake these days, otherwise I would tell you about desserts such as brown butter and rhubarb; and cake made from chicory root and blackcurrant. I enjoyed a beautiful blackened apple tart with caramelized cream with walnuts.)
While these were classic combinations, the quality of the ingredients, the originality of the presentation and the assuredness of the cooking lifted them above the everyday. OK, it’s not the kind of creative contemporary gastronomy on show at World’s 50 Best Restaurants. I well remember my final meal at five-time winner El Bulli that consisted of 48 courses, few of which I could identify. (A crimson liquid described as hare’s blood was particularly disconcerting. It turned out to be beetroot juice, which was actually worse.)
And what did the TripAdvisor users think of the Black Swan? “Absolutely stunning meal last night, service and food were faultless,” one said. All the dishes “were out of this world,” said another. “Probably the best meal I’ve ever had,” said a third. And: “Who would have thought that peas could taste like heaven?”
But you can’t please everyone, at least not on TripAdvisor. One reviewer recently complained that the dining party was “sat on our own absolutely no atmosphere” and “bread was under cooked I could have rolled the inside dough into balls.” (I thought the bread was sensational.)
Banks serves farm-to-table dishes that are focused on the table and the diner rather than on abstract concepts and zany creativity. It’s comfort food that doesn’t step too far outside the comfort zone, yet manages to avoid predictability. It’s about the flavor of the ingredients, rather than the imaginings of the chef. It is good British cooking, taken to another level. And there is a highly imaginative wine list, too.
It may not be my pick for the best restaurant in the world, but it was one of my most enjoyable lunches of the year. It’s more than 230 miles from London but I would not hesitate to go back. If only I could get a table.
(GUA) After thousands of years of failure, some scientists believe a breakthrough might finally be in sight. By Nicola Davison
The common cold has the twin distinction of being both the world’s most widespread infectious disease and one of the most elusive. The name is a problem, for starters. In almost every Indo-European language, one of the words for the disease relates to low temperature, yet experiments have shown that low temperature neither increases the likelihood of catching a cold, nor the severity of symptoms. Then there is the “common” part, which seems to imply that there is a single, indiscriminate pathogen at large. In reality, more than 200 viruses provoke cold-like illness, each one deploying its own peculiar chemical and genetic strategy to evade the body’s defences.
It is hard to think of another disease that inspires the same level of collective resignation. The common cold slinks through homes and schools, towns and cities, making people miserable for a few days without warranting much afterthought. Adults suffer an average of between two and four colds each year, and children up to 10, and we have come to accept this as an inevitable part of life.
Public understanding remains a jumble of folklore and false assumption. In 1984, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided to investigate one of the best-known ways of catching a cold. They infected volunteers with a cold virus and instructed them to kiss healthy test subjects on the mouth for at least one minute. (The instruction for participants was to use whichever technique was “most natural”.) Sixteen healthy volunteers were kissed by people with colds. The result: just one confirmed infection.
The most common beliefs about how to treat the disease have turned out to be false. Dubious efficacy has done little to deter humankind from formulating remedies. The Ebers Papyrus, a medical document from ancient Egypt dated to 1550BC, advises a cold sufferer to recite an incantation, “in association with the administration of milk of one who has borne a male child, and fragrant gum”. In 1924, US President Calvin Coolidge sat down in an airtight chlorine chamber and inhaled the pungent, noxious gas for almost an hour on the advice of his physicians, who were certain that his cold would be cured quickly. (It wasn’t.)
Today, “winter remedy” sales in the UK reach £300m each year, though most over-the-counter products have not actually been proven to work. Some contain paracetamol, an effective analgesic, but the dosage is often sub-optimal. Taking vitamin C in regular doses does little to ward off disease. Hot toddies, medicated tissues and immune system “boosts” of echinacea or ginger are ineffective. Antibiotics do nothing for colds. The only failsafe means of avoiding a cold is to live in complete isolation from the rest of humanity.
Although modern science has changed the way medicine is practised in almost every field, it has so far failed to produce any radically new treatments for colds. The difficulty is that while all colds feel much the same, from a biological perspective the only common feature of the various viruses that cause colds is that they have adapted to enter and damage the cells that line the respiratory tract. Otherwise, they belong to quite different categories of organisms, each with a distinct way of infecting our cells. This makes a catch-all treatment extremely tricky to formulate.
Scientists today identify seven virus families that cause the majority of colds: rhinovirus, coronavirus, influenza and parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and, finally, metapneumovirus, which was first isolated in 2001. Each has a branch of sub-viruses, known as serotypes, of which there are about 200. Rhinovirus, the smallest cold pathogen by size, is by far the most prevalent, causing up to three-quarters of colds in adults. To vanquish the cold we will need to tackle all of these different families of virus at some stage. But, for now, rhinovirus is the biggest player.
Scientists first attempted to make a rhinovirus vaccine in the 1950s. They used a reliable method, pioneered by French biologist Louis Pasteur in the 1880s, in which a small amount of virus is introduced to a host in order to provoke a defensive immunological reaction that then protects the body from subsequent infection. Even so, those who had been vaccinated caught colds just as easily as those who had not.
Over the next decade, as the techniques for isolating cold viruses were refined, it became clear that there were many more rhinoviruses than first predicted. Researchers realised it would not be possible to make a vaccine in the traditional way. Producing dozens of single-serotype vaccines, each one targeting a different strain, would be impractical. The consensus that a rhinovirus vaccine was not possible deepened. The last human clinical trial took place in 1975.
Then, in January last year, an editorial appeared in the Expert Review of Vaccines that once again raised the prospect of a vaccine. The article was co-authored by a group of the world’s leading respiratory disease specialists based at Imperial College London. It was worded cautiously, yet the claim it made was striking. “Perhaps the quest for an RV [rhinovirus] vaccine has been dismissed as too difficult or even impossible,” it said, “but new developments suggest that it may be feasible to generate a significant breadth of immune protection.” The scientists were claiming to be on the way to solving a riddle that has stumped virologists for decades. One virologist told me it was as if a door that had been closed for many, many years had been re-opened.
Part of the Imperial scientists’ motivation was the notion that since we now have vaccines for many of the most dangerous viruses (measles, polio, yellow fever, cholera, influenza, and so on), it is time to tackle the disease that afflicts us most often. “Rhinovirus is by far the most common cause of illness,” says Sebastian Johnston, a professor at Imperial and one of the authors of the editorial. “Look at what people spend on ineffective over-the-counter medications. If you had a safe and effective treatment, you’d take it.”
I asked Johnston if he was optimistic. He pointed out that because their studies so far have only been in mice, they are not sure that the vaccine will work in humans. “The data is limited,” he says. “But it’s encouraging.” It was not the resounding triumphalism that I was expecting, but then cold scientists learned long ago to be careful about making grand proclamations. Theirs is an undertaking that, more than anything, has been defined by consistent disappointment.
The first scientist to try and fail to make a rhinovirus vaccine was also the first scientist to distinguish it from the jumble of other cold viruses. In 1953, an epidemiologist called Winston Price was working at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore when a group of nurses in his department came down with a mild fever, a cough, sore throat and runny nose – symptoms that suggested the flu. Price took nasal washings from the nurses and grew their virus in a cell culture. What he found was too small to be influenza virus. In a 1957 paper, “The isolation of a new virus associated with respiratory clinical disease in humans”, Price initially named his discovery “JH virus”, after his employer.
Price decided to try to develop a vaccine using a bit of dead rhinovirus. When the immune system encounters an invading virus – even a dead or weakened virus – it sets out to expel it. One defence is the production of antibodies, small proteins that hang around in the blood system long after the virus is gone. If the virus is encountered a second time, the antibodies will swiftly recognise it and raise the alarm, giving the immune system the upper hand.
At first, Price was encouraged. In a trial that involved several hundred people, those vaccinated with JH virus had eight times fewer colds than the unvaccinated. Newspapers across the US wanted to know: had the common cold been cured? “The telephone by my bed kept ringing until 3 o’clock in the morning,” Price told the New York Times in November 1957. The celebration would be short-lived. Though Price’s vaccine was effective against his particular “JH” rhinovirus strain, in subsequent experiments it did nothing. This indicated that more than one rhinovirus was out there.
By the late 1960s, dozens of rhinoviruses had been discovered. Even in the alien menagerie of respiratory disease, this level of variation in one species was unusual; there are just three or four influenza viruses circulating at any one time. Scientists at the University of Virginia decided to try a different tactic. Instead of inoculating patients with a single strain of rhinovirus, they combined 10 different serotypes in one injection. But after this, too, failed to shield participants from infection, they were out of ideas.
As hope for a vaccine receded, scientists began investigating other ways to combat colds. From 1946 until it closed in 1990, most research into respiratory viruses in the UK was undertaken at the Common Cold Unit (CCU), a facility backed by the Medical Research Council that occupied a former wartime military hospital in the countryside near Salisbury. In its four decades of operation, some 20,000 volunteers passed through the doors of the CCU, many to be willingly infected with cold virus in the name of scientific progress.
An early experiment at the CCU involved a group of volunteers being made to take a bath and then to stand dripping wet and shivering in a corridor for 30 minutes. After they were allowed to get dressed, they had to wear wet socks for several hours. Despite a drop in body temperature, the group did not get any more colds than a control group of volunteers who had been kept cosy.
The CCU began focusing on cold treatments in the 1960s and 70s, when research into a substance produced by the human body called interferon was gaining momentum. Interferons are proteins that are secreted by cells when they are attacked by a virus. They act as messengers, alerting nearby cells to the invader. These cells in turn produce an antiviral protein that inhibits, or interferes with, the virus’s ability to spread, hence the name.
In 1972, researchers at the CCU decided to investigate whether interferon could be used as a treatment for colds. They infected 32 volunteers with rhinovirus and then sprayed either interferon or placebo up their noses. Of the 16 given a placebo, 13 came down with colds. But of the 16 given interferon, only three got ill. The findings, published in The Lancet, made the front page of the New York Times (below a story on Watergate). A rush of interferon research got underway. But, once again, the excitement was premature. A review by the CCU in the 1980s uncovered a fatal flaw: interferon only worked when it was given to the patient at the same time as the virus. But in real life – that is, outside the lab – a rhinovirus enters the nose between eight and 48 hours before the onset of cold symptoms. By the time you feel a cold coming on, it is already too late.
As the 20th century drew to a close, attempts to find a cure grew more desperate. At the CCU, molecules that were found in traditional Chinese medicine, Japanese tea and oranges were all seriously interrogated. In 1990, the CCU closed. The centre had done much to advance our understanding of the virology of the cold, yet it had also exposed the enormity of the task of defeating it.
In the 1990s, as many virologists focused on HIV and Aids, research into the cold tailed off. “Common acute respiratory infections were seen as less important compared with this threat of a worldwide, lethal plague,” writes David Tyrrell, the former director of the CCU, in his 2002 book Cold Wars. A cure seemed more remote than ever.
Sebastian Johnston’s lab is on the third floor of the School of Medicine, part of Imperial College’s St Mary’s Hospital campus in Paddington, west London. Opened in 1851, the original hospital building is red-brick, with high ceilings, arched colonnades and turrets, but numerous extensions, each progressively more box-like, now hem it in. A round blue plaque on the facade states that Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) discovered penicillin in a second-storey room. Entry to a recreation of Fleming’s lab is £4.
Johnston, a professor of respiratory medicine and an asthma specialist, is 58 and bespectacled, with a mop of grey curls that form a peak on his forehead. As a PhD student in 1989, he was dispatched to the CCU, not long before it closed down, to study virus detection methods. “I spent six months there,” Johnston said. “It was a strange place, basically a bunch of nissen huts connected by wooden runways, with lots of rabbits.”
For his PhD on asthma, Johnston developed a technique called polymerase chain reaction, which magnifies DNA so that viruses can be identified more precisely. To his amazement, Johnston discovered that viruses were behind 85% of asthma attacks in children; about half of those were rhinoviruses. Previously, most studies had detected viruses in fewer than 20% of asthma attacks. Johnston went on to find that rhinovirus also exacerbates symptoms in 95% of cases of smoker’s cough (formally known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD).
It wasn’t until the 1990s that scientists fighting rhinovirus properly understood what they were up against. By that time, electron microscopy had advanced and it was possible to see the organism up close. For a pathogen so spectacularly good at infecting our nasal passages – the “rhin” of the name is from the Greek for “nose” – rhinoviruses are astonishingly simple, being little more than strands of ribonucleic acid (RNA) surrounded by a shell: “a piece of bad news wrapped in a protein coat”, as the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Peter Medawar once observed. Under an electron microscope, they are spherical with a shaggy surface like the bobble on a knitted hat.
Though all the rhinoviruses are pretty much the same internally, a subtle alteration to the pattern of proteins on their outer shell means that, to the immune system, they all look different. It’s a cloak-and-dagger strategy, and the reason why early vaccines such as Winston Price’s failed. Antibodies produced for one rhinovirus serotype do not detect the rest. Until recently, it was believed that there were around 100 different strains, and these were grouped into the “A” and “B” families. Then, in 2007, a new cache of viruses was discovered, the “C” group, making the total more like 160.
In 2003, Johnston, who was then working at Imperial, contacted Jeffrey Almond, a former professor of virology at Reading University who had been recently appointed as head of vaccine development at the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi. The company was already manufacturing a jab for influenza and was interested in tackling the common cold. Having bumped into Johnston at academic conferences, Almond felt that their ambitions were aligned. “I said: ‘Let’s think about whether we can do something dramatic,’” Almond told me. “Let’s think about how we can make a vaccine against rhino.”
For doctors, vaccines are preferable to drugs because they shield the host from invasive organisms before they cause any damage. For pharmaceutical companies, vaccines are significantly less attractive. Not only do they take years and hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, even if that process is successful – which it often isn’t – it can still be hard to make much money. Vaccines are usually injections administered on a single occasion, while drugs are taken for prolonged periods. And people don’t want to pay much for vaccines. “Everybody wants vaccines for pennies rather than pounds because you get them when you’re healthy,” Almond said. “Nobody wants to pay anything when they’re healthy. It’s like car insurance, right? But when you’re sick you will empty your wallet, whatever it takes.”
Still, Almond thought there might be a commercial case for a rhinovirus vaccine. Totting up the days off school and work, plus the secondary infections such as sinusitis that require supplementary treatment and even hospitalisation, rhinovirus places a huge burden on health systems. Last year, in the UK, coughs and colds accounted for almost a quarter of the total number of days lost to sickness, about 34m. In the US, a survey carried out in 2002 calculated that each cold experienced by an adult causes an average loss of 8.7 working hours, while a further 1.2 hours are lost attending to cold-ridden children, making the total cost of lost productivity almost $25bn (£19bn) each year. Almond convinced his bosses that, if it were possible to make one, a rhinovirus vaccination would be financially viable. “Our back-of-the-envelope calculations on what we could charge, and what the numbers of sales could be, mean that it’s likely to be quite profitable and quite interesting for a company to develop,” Almond says.
Reviewing the approaches taken in the 1960s and 70s, Almond and Johnston dismissed the idea of a mega-vaccine of all the 160 rhinovirus serotypes, believing it would be too heavy, too complex and too expensive to make. They wondered instead if there was a tiny part of the structure of viruses that is identical, or “conserved”, across the entire species that could form the basis of what is called a subunit vaccine, an approach that has had success with hepatitis B and the human papilloma virus, or HPV.
After comparing the genetic sequences of the different rhinovirus serotypes, the researchers honed in on a particular protein on the virus shell that seemed to recur across many of the serotypes. They took a piece of the conserved shell from a single rhinovirus, number 16, and mixed it with an adjuvant – a stimulus that mimics the danger signals that trigger an immune response – and injected it into mice as a vaccine. The hope was that the immune system would be jolted into recognising the shell protein as an invasive pathogen, conferring immunity against the entire rhinovirus family.
In petri dishes, the scientists mixed the immunised mouse blood with three other rhinovirus serotypes, numbers 1, 14 and 29. An immunological response to rhinovirus 1 was likely because its genetic sequence is similar to 16, but serotypes 14 and 29 are unalike. The mice’s white blood cells responded vigorously against all three strains. “Seeing responses against those two [different serotypes] was very encouraging,” Johnston said. This gave hope that the vaccine might protect against the full gamut of rhinoviruses.
The scientists gathered a group of respiratory medicine specialists to review the findings. The reviewers agreed that the results looked promising. But just as the scientists were ready to take the vaccine forward, there was a setback at Sanofi. “There was a change of direction, a change of guys at the top,” Almond said. “I took early retirement for different reasons. My boss retired as well.”
In 2013, the new management decided that the company’s priorities were elsewhere, handing back to Imperial College the patent that protects the vaccine idea from being developed by other groups. Imperial did not have the resources to develop the vaccine without outside investment. For Johnston, it was frustrating – years of research and toil in the lab had seemed to be finally yielding results. But there was little he could do. The vaccine was shelved.
Across the Atlantic, as Imperial began to search for new backers, Martin Moore, a paediatrician at Emory University in Atlanta, was working on a rival approach to the same problem. A specialist in children’s respiratory disease, for the past three years Moore has been working on a solution so straightforward that when he presented the results of his paper, published in Nature Communications last year, his colleagues struggled to accept them. “But if I pushed them, I couldn’t get a good reason for that other than, just: it hadn’t been done before,” he says.
Moore first resolved to do something about the common cold in 2014, while on holiday with his family in Florida. Shortly after they had arrived, his son, then a toddler, came down with a cold. “He wanted me to hold him day and night,” Moore said. The pair hunkered down in the hotel room watching movies while the rest of the family went to the beach. “It was frustrating because, as a virologist, we can go into the lab and slice and dice these viruses. But what are we really doing about them?”
Moore reviewed the papers from the 1960s and 70s that described the early attempts at a vaccine. He saw that the scientists had demonstrated that if they took one rhinovirus, killed it and then injected it, it would protect people against that same strain. “People actually made decent vaccines against rhinovirus in the 1960s,” Moore told me. What scientists did not account for at the time was that there were so many different serotypes. But where the scientists of the past had seen defeat, Moore saw promise. Why not simply make a vaccine made up of all the rhinoviruses? There was nothing to suggest that it would not work. The problem was not with the science, but with logistics. “I thought, the only thing between us and doing this is manufacturing and economics.”
Moore secured funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and applied for samples of the different serotypes from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Type Culture Collection, a biological material repository headquartered in Virginia. He stopped short of calling in all 160 serotypes, reasoning that 50 would be enough to support his hypothesis.
After developing the vaccine, composed of these 50 serotypes, Moore tested it on a number of rhesus macaque monkeys. When their blood was later mixed with viruses in petri dishes, there was a strong antibody response to 49 of the 50 serotypes. It was not possible to see whether the vaccinated monkeys themselves would be protected from colds, since human rhinoviruses do not infect monkeys. But the ability to induce antibodies in monkey blood does correlate with protection in people.
“Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I never had a doubt that it would produce antibodies,” Moore told me. “Our paper was about showing it can be done.” There is still a long way to go before Moore’s dream becomes reality. For the vaccine to be tested in a clinical trial, it will need to be made under good manufacturing practice (GMP) conditions – regulations that companies must adhere to for licensing. Under these regulations, substances need to be kept separate to avoid cross-contamination – a substantial challenge for a vaccine that potentially encompasses 160 serotypes (currently, the largest number of serotypes in a single vaccine, for pneumonia, is 23).
For a manufacturing model, Moore is looking to the polio vaccine, since polio and rhinovirus are biologically related. The scale of production would be many times greater, but the basic processes would be alike. In May, Moore’s start-up, Meissa Vaccines, received a $225,000 (£170,000) grant from the NIH for work on rhinovirus. He is taking leave from academia to work on the vaccines.
At this point in time, perhaps the biggest barrier to us curing the common cold is commercial. Researchers at universities can only go so far; the most generous grants from bodies such as the UK Medical Research Council are around £2m. It falls to pharmaceutical companies to carry out development beyond the initial proof of concept. “You’re looking at 10-15 years’ work, minimum, with teams of people, and you’re going to spend $1bn (£760m) at least,” Almond told me.
Successes have been rare, and there have been spectacular flops. Last year, shares in US firm Novavax fell by 83% after its vaccine for RSV, one of the virus families responsible for colds, failed in a late-stage clinical trial. While it is less common than rhinovirus, RSV can cause great harm and even death in those with weakened immunity, including infants and the elderly. An effective vaccine presented an estimated $1bn opportunity for Novavax in the US alone. Before the results came through, chief executive Stanley Erck said it could be “the largest-selling vaccine in the history of vaccines”. But in the phase III trial of elderly patients, it did little to protect against infection. In the hours after the news broke, Novavax share prices fell from $8.34 to $1.40.
Episodes such as this have made pharmaceutical companies wary. Today, vaccines constitute less than 5% of the overall pharmaceutical market, and development is consolidated in a handful of companies: Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck and Johnson & Johnson, among a few other smaller players.
After the $1bn or so spent on development, there are also manufacturing and distribution costs to consider. There needs to be a return on the initial investment. “You sure as hell can’t do it if there’s not a market at the end, you’re wasting the company’s money, and if you do that too often, you’ll bankrupt the company,” Almond says. “There isn’t a conspiracy out there that says, ‘Let’s not do vaccines so people can get ill and we charge them a lot’, nothing like that. It genuinely isn’t easy.”
In August, I called Sebastian Johnston to see if there was any news on his vaccine. He told me that he had just received confirmation of further funding from Apollo Therapeutics, a startup backed by AstraZeneca, GSK and Johnson & Johnson. This would allow his lab to test the vaccine on more strains of rhinovirus. Johnston believes that if the vaccine proves to be protective against, say, 20 serotypes, there is a good chance it will protect against all the rhinoviruses. Beginning in October, the research should take about a year and a half. “At that point, I think we’ll be at a stage where we’ll be able to go to major vaccine companies.”
If the vaccine were to make it through the clinical trials, and was approved by regulators, it would first be rolled out to high-risk groups – those with asthma and COPD, and perhaps the elderly, as the flu jab is in the UK – and then to the rest of the population. In time, as the proportion of vaccinated individuals reach a critical mass, the viruses would cease to circulate because the chain of infection will be broken – a phenomenon called herd immunity.
From where we are today, this scenario is still distant: about 80% of drugs that make it into clinical trials because they worked in mice do not go on to work in humans. Still, for the first time in decades there are now major pharmaceutical companies with rhinovirus vaccine programmes, as well as smaller university research groups like Johnston’s which, through different approaches, are all pursuing the same goal of a cure. Once again, Johnston said, “people are starting to believe it may be possible.”
(WSJ) So you bought that new iPhone. If you are like the typical owner, you’ll be pulling your phone out and using it some 80 times a day, according to data Apple collects. That means you’ll be consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year. Your new phone, like your old one, will become your constant companion and trusty factotum—your teacher, secretary, confessor, guru. The two of you will be inseparable.
The smartphone is unique in the annals of personal technology. We keep the gadget within reach more or less around the clock, and we use it in countless ways, consulting its apps and checking its messages and heeding its alerts scores of times a day. The smartphone has become a repository of the self, recording and dispensing the words, sounds and images that define what we think, what we experience and who we are. In a 2015 Gallup survey, more than half of iPhone owners said that they couldn’t imagine life without the device.
We love our phones for good reasons. It’s hard to imagine another product that has provided so many useful functions in such a handy form. But while our phones offer convenience and diversion, they also breed anxiety. Their extraordinary usefulness gives them an unprecedented hold on our attention and vast influence over our thinking and behavior. So what happens to our minds when we allow a single tool such dominion over our perception and cognition?
Scientists have begun exploring that question—and what they’re discovering is both fascinating and troubling. Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens.
Adrian Ward, a cognitive psychologist and marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has been studying the way smartphones and the internet affect our thoughts and judgments for a decade. In his own work, as well as that of others, he has seen mounting evidence that using a smartphone, or even hearing one ring or vibrate, produces a welter of distractions that makes it harder to concentrate on a difficult problem or job. The division of attention impedes reasoning and performance.
A 2015 Journal of Experimental Psychology study, involving 166 subjects, found that when people’s phones beep or buzz while they’re in the middle of a challenging task, their focus wavers, and their work gets sloppier—whether they check the phone or not. Another 2015 study, which involved 41 iPhone users and appeared in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, showed that when people hear their phone ring but are unable to answer it, their blood pressure spikes, their pulse quickens, and their problem-solving skills decline.
The earlier research didn’t explain whether and how smartphones differ from the many other sources of distraction that crowd our lives. Dr. Ward suspected that our attachment to our phones has grown so intense that their mere presence might diminish our intelligence. Two years ago, he and three colleagues—Kristen Duke and Ayelet Gneezy from the University of California, San Diego, and Disney Research behavioral scientist Maarten Bos—began an ingenious experiment to test his hunch.
The researchers recruited 520 undergraduate students at UCSD and gave them two standard tests of intellectual acuity. One test gauged “available cognitive capacity,” a measure of how fully a person’s mind can focus on a particular task. The second assessed “fluid intelligence,” a person’s ability to interpret and solve an unfamiliar problem. The only variable in the experiment was the location of the subjects’ smartphones. Some of the students were asked to place their phones in front of them on their desks; others were told to stow their phones in their pockets or handbags; still others were required to leave their phones in a different room.
The results were striking. In both tests, the subjects whose phones were in view posted the worst scores, while those who left their phones in a different room did the best. The students who kept their phones in their pockets or bags came out in the middle. As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased.
In subsequent interviews, nearly all the participants said that their phones hadn’t been a distraction—that they hadn’t even thought about the devices during the experiment. They remained oblivious even as the phones disrupted their focus and thinking.
A second experiment conducted by the researchers produced similar results, while also revealing that the more heavily students relied on their phones in their everyday lives, the greater the cognitive penalty they suffered.
In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking. The fact that most of us now habitually keep our phones “nearby and in sight,” the researchers noted, only magnifies the mental toll.
Dr. Ward’s findings are consistent with other recently published research. In a similar but smaller 2014 study (involving 47 subjects) in the journal Social Psychology, psychologists at the University of Southern Maine found that people who had their phones in view, albeit turned off, during two demanding tests of attention and cognition made significantly more errors than did a control group whose phones remained out of sight. (The two groups performed about the same on a set of easier tests.)
In another study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in April, researchers examined how smartphones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They found that students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not: All of them scored equally poorly. A study of 91 secondary schools in the U.K., published last year in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting the most.
It isn’t just our reasoning that takes a hit when phones are around. Social skills and relationships seem to suffer as well. Because smartphones serve as constant reminders of all the friends we could be chatting with electronically, they pull at our minds when we’re talking with people in person, leaving our conversations shallower and less satisfying.
In a study conducted at the University of Essex in the U.K., 142 participants were divided into pairs and asked to converse in private for 10 minutes. Half talked with a phone in the room, while half had no phone present. The subjects were then given tests of affinity, trust and empathy. “The mere presence of mobile phones,” the researchers reported in 2013 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” and diminished “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” The downsides were strongest when “a personally meaningful topic” was being discussed. The experiment’s results were validated in a subsequent study by Virginia Tech researchers, published in 2016 in the journal Environment and Behavior.
The evidence that our phones can get inside our heads so forcefully is unsettling. It suggests that our thoughts and feelings, far from being sequestered in our skulls, can be skewed by external forces we’re not even aware of.
Scientists have long known that the brain is a monitoring system as well as a thinking system. Its attention is drawn toward any object that is new, intriguing or otherwise striking—that has, in the psychological jargon, “salience.” Media and communications devices, from telephones to TV sets, have always tapped into this instinct. Whether turned on or switched off, they promise an unending supply of information and experiences. By design, they grab and hold our attention in ways natural objects never could.
But even in the history of captivating media, the smartphone stands out. It is an attention magnet unlike any our minds have had to grapple with before. Because the phone is packed with so many forms of information and so many useful and entertaining functions, it acts as what Dr. Ward calls a “supernormal stimulus,” one that can “hijack” attention whenever it is part of our surroundings—which it always is. Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can’t take our minds off it.
The irony of the smartphone is that the qualities we find most appealing—its constant connection to the net, its multiplicity of apps, its responsiveness, its portability—are the very ones that give it such sway over our minds. Phone makers like Apple and Samsung and app writers like Facebook and Google design their products to consume as much of our attention as possible during every one of our waking hours, and we thank them by buying millions of the gadgets and downloading billions of the apps every year.
A quarter-century ago, when we first started going online, we took it on faith that the web would make us smarter: More information would breed sharper thinking. We now know it isn’t that simple. The way a media device is designed and used exerts at least as much influence over our minds as does the information that the device unlocks.
As strange as it might seem, people’s knowledge and understanding may actually dwindle as gadgets grant them easier access to online data stores. In a seminal 2011 study published in Science, a team of researchers—led by the Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow and including the late Harvard memory expert Daniel Wegner—had a group of volunteers read 40 brief, factual statements (such as “The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry over Texas in Feb. 2003”) and then type the statements into a computer. Half the people were told that the machine would save what they typed; half were told that the statements would be immediately erased.
Afterward, the researchers asked the subjects to write down as many of the statements as they could remember. Those who believed that the facts had been recorded in the computer demonstrated much weaker recall than those who assumed the facts wouldn’t be stored. Anticipating that information would be readily available in digital form seemed to reduce the mental effort that people made to remember it. The researchers dubbed this phenomenon the “Google effect” and noted its broad implications: “Because search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally. When we need it, we will look it up.”
Now that our phones have made it so easy to gather information online, our brains are likely offloading even more of the work of remembering to technology. If the only thing at stake were memories of trivial facts, that might not matter. But, as the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James said in an 1892 lecture, “the art of remembering is the art of thinking.” Only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking. No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with.
This story has a twist. It turns out that we aren’t very good at distinguishing the knowledge we keep in our heads from the information we find on our phones or computers. As Dr. Wegner and Dr. Ward explained in a 2013 Scientific American article, when people call up information through their devices, they often end up suffering from delusions of intelligence. They feel as though “their own mental capacities” had generated the information, not their devices. “The advent of the ‘information age’ seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before,” the scholars concluded, even though “they may know ever less about the world around them.”
That insight sheds light on our society’s current gullibility crisis, in which people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you’ll believe anything it tells you.
Data, the novelist and critic Cynthia Ozick once wrote, is “memory without history.” Her observation points to the problem with allowing smartphones to commandeer our brains. When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning. Upgrading our gadgets won’t solve the problem. We need to give our minds more room to think. And that means putting some distance between ourselves and our phones.
Mr. Carr is the author of “The Shallows” and “Utopia Is Creepy,” among other books.
(DN) Toda a humanidade acha que Deus deve estar muito ofendido. Mesmo a pequena minoria que não acredita na Sua existência percebe que, se Ele existe, tem fortes razões de queixa. Todos, mesmo optimistas e empenhados, vêem as terríveis nuvens que assombram o nosso tempo.
Destruímos a natureza, sentindo-se já gritantes as reacções do clima e as devastações da vida. Na própria humanidade, multiplicam-se as agressões à natureza, com promoção aberta do aborto, eutanásia, adultério, homossexualidade, perversão, clonagem e manipulação embrionária. Estes temas são extremamente controversos, como são as questões político-económicas da desigualdade, da injustiça e da marginalização, também crescentemente assustadoras. Por isso, há inúmeras razões de conflito, num tempo em que a guerra e violência adquiriram meios de destruição antes inimagináveis. Vivemos uma era crucial, onde o balanço global da humanidade, embora encontre muitas coisas boas, dignas e elevadas, permanece negativo e em queda.
A pergunta razoável, a única pergunta lógica perante este panorama é: que devo fazer acerca disso? Esta questão é urgente e implacável. Temos de evitar a falácia de achar que questões tão vastas apenas competem aos grandes do mundo. Todos somos responsáveis e cada um, naquilo que fez pessoalmente, será julgado pela sua consciência, antes de o ser pelo poder supremo. Somos parte da humanidade, parte do problema, e a nossa atitude é relevante aqui e agora.
Infelizmente, a resposta à pergunta exige escolher uma visão particular da realidade. Os parágrafos anteriores, descrevendo a questão, dirigiam-se a toda a gente, independentemente de convicções acerca do nosso destino. Mas qualquer solução só nasce de uma forma particular de olhar o mundo. Não é possível dar passos no sentido da resposta sem optar por uma convicção concreta.
Apesar disso, ainda é possível dizer a toda a humanidade que a única hipótese de esta reflexão ter sentido, de ainda ser possível fazer alguma coisa acerca das nossas desgraças, é Aquele a quem ofendemos ser paciente e compreensivo. Se não o for, está tudo perdido. Essa é precisamente a convicção de mais de metade da humanidade – cristãos, muçulmanos e judeus -, que acredita no Deus de Abraão. Se é assim, o poder supremo que a humanidade está a ofender como nunca antes é um Deus clemente e misericordioso, sempre pronto a perdoar e a compadecer-se. Na Bíblia e no Alcorão são muitas as histórias dos tempos antigos em que o povo ofendeu fortemente a Deus, foi castigado severamente, mas, mesmo assim, tratado de forma muito mais benevolente do que merecia, sendo no final perdoado por Alguém que prefere sempre a misericórdia ao sacrifício. Só nestas condições vale a pena contemplar a triste realidade do nosso tempo. Com um juiz impiedoso, como o ambiente, a Terra e a natureza, ou mesmo com um juiz justo e equilibrado, já estaríamos condenados.
Na próxima sexta-feira passa o centenário de um acontecimento que é provavelmente a última hipótese da humanidade. O milagre do Sol, que aconteceu na Cova da Iria a 13 de Outubro de 1917, chamou instantaneamente a atenção de todo o mundo para a “mensagem de Fátima”. Nela, o aspecto central é tratar precisamente deste tema decisivo. A última coisa que a Aparição disse há cem anos foi: “Não ofendam mais a Nosso Senhor, que já está muito ofendido!” Isto é algo que, como vimos, toda a gente do planeta consegue entender. Todos, mesmo os que não acreditam n”Ele, sabem bem por que razão Deus deve estar ofendido.
A mensagem que Nossa Senhora revelou é composta por duas partes. A segunda, o segredo, descreve de forma arrepiante aquilo que depois viria a acontecer: as horríveis misérias do século XX, com todo o cortejo de violência, injustiça e sofrimento. Mas essa parte, que ficou oculta e só viria a ser revelada mais tarde, é a menos importante, até porque ficou datada no tempo. Aquilo que verdadeiramente interessa estava conhecido logo em 1917 e permanece hoje tão actual como então. Trata-se da primeira parte da mensagem de Fátima, a solução para esses males: rezar o terço todos os dias, fazer penitência pelos pecadores e consagrar-se ao Imaculado Coração de Maria.
Estas três coisas são incompreensíveis para grande parte da humanidade e desprezadas por muitos outros. Mas se esses desdenham o tratamento, não podem negar a doença e a dificuldade de a curar. Na verdade, os que recusam Fátima não têm melhores ideias para propor. Somos herdeiros de inúmeras doutrinas, sistemas, modelos, planos e programas para lidar com os males da humanidade, a qual, como vimos, está cada vez pior. Cem anos após o milagre, que nenhuma dessas alternativas apresentou, o mistério de Fátima permanece diante da humanidade como uma solução para os nossos males. Esta resposta, muito mais simples e barata do que as propostas que têm falhado, é das poucas que se mantêm credíveis. E precisamos com urgência de uma solução.
We have grown used to cameras watching us. Once they recorded us; increasingly they recognise us, too. It is easy to think of facial recognition as just a technological convenience — a new way to unlock a smartphone, say. That is a mistake. In essence, facial recognition is biometric identification at a distance, with no need for consent.
Unlike fingerprints, retinal scans or blood samples, it is easily performed without the subject’s knowledge. It will affect how we travel, live, shop, and much else. It will force changes in the way privacy is defined and protected. If those who care about individual rights do not start thinking about the implications now, those changes will be forced upon us rather than chosen.
Facial recognition is already in use around the world. The Chinese equivalent of Amazon, Alibaba, allows people to “pay with a smile” using facial recognition in stores, for example. The potential for good is obvious. Think of the hours that could be saved if facial recognition were to become the default identification tool at airports.
These benefits will have to balanced against the loss of anonymity. In Russia, an app called FindFace identifies individuals in photos, linking them to profiles on a social network called VKontakte. A similar service, if linked to Facebook and other networks, could put names to billions of faces. In the city of Shenzhen jaywalkers are identified using CCTV, and their faces and addresses posted on a large screen to shame them into better behaviour.
The technology will not be limited to connecting a face with information already present on the internet. A facial recognition model developed at Stanford, when presented with paired photos of individuals who self-identify as gay or straight, could tell which was which with 81 per cent accuracy in men and 74 per cent in women. Humans given the same task were much less accurate. Yes, the sample was limited and the study needs to be replicated with a more refined methodology. The results cannot be dismissed, though. Nor can the frightening implications. Consider an algorithm identifying sexual minorities deployed in an intolerant, authoritarian state. The technology may misclassify many, but tyrants lose little sleep over false positives.
Facial recognition also may appear in a store near you, in the form of “dynamic pricing”. Supermarkets are replacing paper price tags with digital screens to avoid manually relabelling for price changes. Imagine if the prices changed based on the identity of the shopper, picked out by a camera at the store entrance. Does this sound too farfetched? Travel sites allegedly charge more when they detect the search patterns of a determined buyer. Amazon already changes prices quickly on the basis of demand. Economists call this price discrimination. With a set price, consumers who could have paid more capture surplus value. In a world of tailored pricing, this discount vanishes, increasing returns for sellers at the expense of buyers.
Dynamic pricing might be possible even without positive identification of the target. A University of Toronto study suggests that facial cues can provide useful hints about socio-economic status. A facial identification algorithm that detected class would be a hot commercial property.
Facial recognition technology will develop apace, whatever lawmakers and rights advocates do. When citizens have the right to anonymity is no longer a theoretical question. If the technology becomes ubiquitous before decisions are taken about legal limits, it may be the facts on the ground, rather than liberal principles, that determine the answers.
(BBC) Here, small groups of strangers who otherwise would never have met, much less shared stories, come together.
When I heard the knock on my bedroom door, I was in my 50-shades-of-purple room at Casa Grande in Burgau, Portugal – a quirky bed-and-breakfast run by the quirkier matriarch, Sally Vincent, who expatriated from England 40 years prior. I was moping, chin on elbows, gazing out of the wood-panelled window at the bougainvillea drooping overhead.
“Hi,” Sally exclaimed excitedly, her tone du jour. “You ready to go?”
Burgau sits on the southern tip of the country, the second-to-last southernmost town in the sparsely populated Algarve region. The village has a permanent population of about 450 that barely doubles with tourists in the summer months, and is built of mostly white, sea-washed buildings smooshed together on narrow cobbled streets with a handful of bars and restaurants.
The quirky Casa Grande is located in the small seaside town of Burgau, Portugal (Credit: Juergen Wackenhut/Getty Images)
Long before Sally found herself the unwitting ‘Queen of Casa Grande’, she was a burgeoning young actress in 1950s London. She worked as a directors’ assistant at the famous London film production centre Pinewood Studios in between acting gigs, and brought scripts and coffee to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Charlton Heston. And when she was 21, she married – as many young women of that time did.
John Vincent was a bohemian adventurer, and the two left London in a whirlwind romance. They lived in Malta for a bit, then bought a rusty Land Rover to travel on a cargo ship full of goats to Libya. From there, they drove through the desert to Morocco, took the ferry to Spain and journeyed up through France, eventually returning to England where John worked in organising conventions. Not long after, he got a job offer to do the same in Chicago, and the two settled in the Midwest for five years. Sally followed as the dutiful wife and wasn’t sure if her acting could continue, but it turned out that being a British actress in the US made her a hot commodity. Their first two children were born there, but by the time they were two and four, the Vincents were feeling the pull back to Europe.
Sally Vincent moved to Portugal from England 40 years ago (Credit: Vincent family)
“Portugal was one of the least developed countries in Europe at the time,” 74-year-old Sally explained to me over tea and biscuits in her formal sitting room decorated with Victorian wallpaper and furniture to match. “We felt like rich Americans and went in search of a castle.” They drove around for a year in a converted campervan, landing in Burgau and spending all their savings on their ‘castle’ – a rundown mansion.
“There was no water, no electricity and we spent a year fixing it up,” she said.
After a hefty renovation and camping inside, the 1912 house began to resemble its former self. With no intention of returning to England, the Vincents settled into their Casa Grande and began renting it out as a B&B. Sally also ran a restaurant out of its converted adega (an old wine storehouse).
Sally’s Casa Grande is a quirky local bed and breakfast in Burgau, Portugal (Credit: Vincent family)
I came to know about Sally through her eldest son; we sat next to each other on a short flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, and as I try to often do, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate. After the normal Q&A session began to wane and more pointed questions began to fall out of my curious mouth, he mentioned growing up in southern Portugal. I was so intrigued by the five-minute version of his upbringing that I asked if he’d put me in touch with his mother. I already had plans to be in the United Kingdom for three months over the following summer, and I knew I’d need a beach vacation. The serendipity of it was not lost on me.
On my third night there, as I sat moping in my window seat because of some solo-travel loneliness, Sally took me and two other guest couples – one from Berlin and the other from the Netherlands – to hear fado, the traditional music and dinner experience that Portugal is famous for. Sally, who often plays tour guide with her guests despite not being paid extra for it, kept the conversation going when language barriers presented themselves. Her laugh was raucous and her curly silver hair looked like a halo in the dim restaurant light. It was hard not to believe Sally when she was speaking, no matter how outrageous the tale; her expert storytelling slid easily in between sets of soulful fado and sizzling Portuguese meat and seafood dishes.
Fado is a traditional music and dinner experience for which Portugal is famous (Credit: Horacio Villalobos – Corbis/Getty Images)
She told us that a decade after their move to Burgau, John left her and their now four children. He had been going back and forth to the US for work and “created another life with someone else,” as Sally said pointedly. He left them with no warning, no savings, no financial assistance whatsoever and no goodbye to the children.
“By this time, the children had many friends and a good community here,” said Sally, who’s been the manor’s matriarch ever since, “So they didn’t know the agony and the struggle of it – running a restaurant, running the guesthouse and bringing up four children.”
Casa Grande holds a maximum of 16 guests at a time, and it’s generally full between May and September every year. Each morning, Sally holds court around the 150-year-old dining-room table spattered with un-matching teacup sets and fresh fruits, meats and cheeses set out by her housekeeper, the 40-something Felicidad, who’s been working for Sally for more than 25 years. Guests hail from the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, South Africa and beyond. And while breakfast isn’t mandatory, it may as well be since you’ll get a half-joking finger wag and a shake of the head if you’re not in attendance. And I should know; Sally – who’s got seven granddaughters ranging from four months to 29 years, one of whom she said I reminded her of – gleefully tsk-tsked me the morning after the night of fado.
The author, encouraged by Sally to socialise, met her partner while out in Burgau (Credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images)
After dinner, my loneliness had led me to one of the three bars in town. Not surprisingly, Sally encouraged her guests to socialise – to party, if you will. I ordered my new favourite drink vinho verde (Portuguese white sparkling wine) as two young British men sat to my left and slapped down cards of a game I didn’t know. The taller of the two invited me to join, and then let me tag along on their three-bar bar-crawl. Over the next four days, as our time in Burgau overlapped, our one night grew into a solid holiday dalliance (and more than a year later we’re in love, happy partners on a new adventure living together in London).
Over that morning’s breakfast – where my hangover throbbed and my loneliness subsided – she regaled her guests with Casa Grande’s ghost stories, guest gallivants and even buried treasure. This is a time-honoured tradition where she delights in telling of her A-list patrons, like the Queen’s beautician who, before her passing, summered there for 20 years during her annual two weeks off from royal duty. The billionaire hotelier Vikram Oberoi spent a month there with his family a few years back and never let on who he was or what he did; Sally suggested he come work for her because of his handy skills around the house. Billy Idol and his family summered there a couple of years ago, and his 86-year-old mother continues to visit. She’s been teaching Sally how to use Facebook.
Sally has no intention of stopping work at Casa Grande anytime soon, despite her age, but does admit that she’d like more help to run the business and perhaps open the restaurant again, which closed four years ago. For the time being, she brings together small groups of strangers who otherwise would never have met, much less shared stories of babies to come, old crushes to get over and other tales of loss and love – and new love, as it was with me – that flow easily around the breakfast table here.
Sally has hosted celebrity guests like Billy Idol and hotelier Vikram Oberoi (Credit: Vincent family)
“I went to a concert in Nottingham [about 10 years after John left us],” Sally told me as conversation wound down in the living room. “It was The Irish Tenors and they sang songs that he used to play and sing. It brought back all these amazing memories of the good times we’d had, because I’d just blocked them out.”
Spurred on by the memories and the music, not long after the concert Sally wrote to John and thanked him for the adventures and for their children.
It’s those magic moments that make the harder times worth it
“Apparently he cried,” Sally said, “And he called the children. He talked to me and it was just wonderful. It’s the music that did it. He’s passed away now, but I’m so glad that we made up and that I realised how wonderful our lives were and that [he brought us] to a brilliant place to bring up the children. If we had followed him when he left, then it would not have been as it was [and we] did really well.”
As Sally told me over FaceTime when we reconnected for this story from my flat in London with my partner, it’s those magic moments that make the harder times worth it. “Those magic moments,” she repeated, eyes twinkling.
(BBG) The race to build the most luxurious yacht-style submarine is on.
For those bored with multimillion-dollar megayachts, with their ho-hum helipads and snooze-inducing jacuzzis, consider the 928-foot-long M7, designed by the Austrian company, Migaloo Private Submersible Yachts.
If you’re the helipad-on-a-sea-vessel type, the M7 not only has a place for your chopper to land, it has a swimming pool, VIP suites, multiple hangar bays, and a design inspired by the U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyers. (Alas, its engines are diesel-electric, not nuclear-powered.)
And unlike a yacht, which is just going to sit there on top of the water, floating around like a $200 million chunk of burnished driftwood, the M7 can dive to 1,500 feet and cruise underwater at 20 knots. The real excitement, as Sebastian the Crab once sang, is “under the sea.”
Life may be better down where it’s wetter, but the M7 will cost you. There’s no precise price tag yet, says Christian Gumpold, chief executive officer of Migaloo. But the $2.3 billion figure mentioned in this report is close. “This would make it for sure to the most expensive private object worldwide,” Gumpold told us via email.
The M7 is not the only submarine available to those rich enough to afford one. For a couple of decades, companies such as Triton Submarines, DeepFlight Adventures, U-Boat Worx BV, and Seamagine Hydrospace Corp. have been producing and selling “submersibles.” These are smaller vehicles, capable of taking from two to eight passengers thousands of feet down to explore the ocean for hours at a time. OceanGate Inc., founded by the adventure-loving entrepreneur Stockton Rush, is planning to take passengers to the remains of the Titanic in 2018.
Submersibles can’t, however, regenerate their own power, and they rely on yachts or other vessels for long-distance transport and servicing. They’re pretty awesome, but they’re more James Cameron, less James Bond.
Full-on, luxurious, yacht-style submarines are a more recent development. Three companies—Migaloo, the Florida-based U.S. Submarines Inc., and Ocean Submarine in the Netherlands—produce sub designs that aspiring Bond villains dream of: capable of traveling 1,000 miles or more, luxuriously appointed, and the kind of underwater headquarters from which you can plot world domination, or maybe just host friends for a week of exploration.
As you might expect, private submarines are phenomenally expensive. U.S. Submarines’ Nomad 1000—which seats 10 to 24, has a range of 1,000 nautical miles, and can dive to 1,000 feet—begins at $6.5 million. Its top-of-the-line, 213-foot-long Phoenix 1000, which has more than 5,000 square feet of interior, is estimated to cost $90 million.
So while dozens of private submersibles are bobbing around the deep, there are currently no private luxury subs in existence. For all the renderings zipping around the Internet, subs such as the M7 and the Phoenix 1000 remain (mostly) theoretical.
“We’re not building anything right now,” said L. Bruce Jones, the founder and CEO of U.S. Submarines, adding that his company, which is affiliated with Triton, is focusing on submersibles “because that’s where the market is.”
“It seems like a massively expensive engineering exercise—and an unproven one—in the recreational sector,” said Stewart Campbell, editor of Boat International. “Yachting is often a volume game—how much space can you pack into your hull and superstructure? There’s a cost-per-gross-tonne calculation that the superyacht world understands. I imagine with one of these big submersibles, that equation goes out the window. You’re not getting much volume for the money, and the equivalent yacht will give you more of everything.”
It’s also possible that safety concerns hinder potential buyers, though all sub makers adhere to safety standards issued by organizations such as the American Bureau of Shipping and the Norwegian DNV GL, as well as the U.S. Navy’s Subsafe specifications. They all also claim perfect records, with about 1 million passengers per year going on dives as tourists.
Of the three manufacturers, only Ocean Submarine (which supplies subs to the military) is under contract to complete a civilian vessel, for what CEO Martin van Eijk calls “a very rich client.” Set to be delivered in 2018, the 64-foot Neyk L3 can seat up to 20 passengers, depending on the configuration, with a bar, galley, and library. (Van Eijk did not know which books will go into the library.)
The L3 may be smaller than Migaloo’s offerings, but its size offers some advantages. The company’s idea of luxury is, according to its brochures, about “more than Connolly leather.” As with, say, a Lamborghini, this is about comfort and control: Vertical thrusters let the L3 remain in one place, despite ocean currents; landing gear allows the sub to pull up on beaches (no marina necessary); and the ride is quiet and precise, with a range of 500 to 1,500 nautical miles. Plus, it’s only 20 million euros ($23.8 million), practically a bargain. (Buy two!)
Learning to pilot these subs—or rather, training a crew to pilot them—is essential. In the U.S., pilots need to have a master’s license, but there’s more to it than that. “When a submarine is on the surface, it’s the same like another ship,” van Eijk said. “But when you go down under, you need some rules to understand.”
Ocean Submarines, he said, has a German training center, with the same simulator as airplanes. “We can do the same interior as the cockpits, so the client can see how exactly the submarine will work,” he said. The training typically takes four months.
Once you’ve got your sub and your trained crew, you can go wherever you like, the manufacturers told me. There are no specific legal restrictions on civilian subs anywhere in the world. Which is not to say coast guards won’t take note of your presence.
“When you bring a submersible into someone else’s territorial waters, not everybody is as enthusiastic about allowing you to go diving,” said Patrick Lahey, the founder and president of Triton Submarines. “The areas that people seem to be most concerned about submersibles being used are Greece and France, because they have antiquities on the bottom and they’re concerned that a person that owns a submersible might be going down and taking things that might be an important part of history.” (Mechanical grabbing arms and diver lock-out chambers are popular add-ons for most subs.)
There is a way to assuage concerns, Lahey said. “Involve the local authorities in what you’re doing, both to assure them you’re not there to plunder their antiquities but to give them an opportunity to dive in their own waters and to see things maybe they’ve never seen themselves.”
If that doesn’t work, you could always invite them for a dip in one of your jacuzzis, or a midnight screening of the new Star Wars movie at your sub’s open-air cinema. And if the paparazzi show up to spy, you can do what mere superyacht owners never can: Dive.
(BBG) Though no one wants to say it, China is producing some of the most delectable fish eggs available.
Mention China alongside almost any food product, and people get nervous. After international incidents involving bleach-soaked meat, antifreeze-laced apple juice, and pine nuts “unfit for human consumption,” the country “is known for tainted food because of repeated quality-control scandals,” says Shaun Rein, managing director for the China Market Research Group.
Kaluga Queen, which produces its caviar about 300 miles southwest of Shanghai, is mindful of these associations.
“The biggest obstacle is the low trust of Chinese food safety,” says Lily Liu, marketing manager for parent company Hangzhou Qiandaohu Xunlong Sci-tech Co.
And yet after the first tin was shipped in 2006, Kaluga Queen began to build a distinguished fan base. It’s now the caviar of choice for 21 of the 26 Michelin three-starred restaurants in Paris, including Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée Hotel. Seafood specialist Eric Ripert serves it at Le Bernardin in New York. Lufthansa offers it in first-class cabins. The company’s sturgeon roe was even part of President Obama’s meal at the 2016 Group of 20 summit.
But because most consumers still associate Chinese brands with inexpensive knockoffs, the provenance of Kaluga Queen caviar is rarely mentioned. Alexandre Petrossian, vice president of the namesake caviar purveyor, sells Kaluga Queen-sourced products at the company’s boutiques worldwide but doesn’t label the caviar as Chinese on its tins, where 30 grams can average $150.
“Chinese caviar was very hard to sell for the first three years,” he says. “It was difficult to convince people that it was not a cheap product. There is cheap Chinese caviar, but what we carry is one of the best on the market.”
Russia and Iran have long dominated the caviar export market, harvesting the delectable eggs from beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea. Overfishing there eventually landed them on the endangered species list, and as supply dwindled, other nations, including Japan, Israel, and China, have started to fill the gap.
“Exports of Chinese caviar will boom because of sanctions and limited supplies from Iran and Russia,” Rein says. “Many restaurateurs will buy Chinese caviar because of good quality, reasonable price, and ample stock.”
Kaluga Queen turns out 60 tons of caviar per year, making it the largest producer in the world, according to the company. It sells five kinds, but Petrossian’s best-seller is Huso Hybrid ($210 for 30g), which comes from a hybrid of Kaluga and Amur sturgeon. The fish are raised in the Zhejiang province of China, where the Huangshan Mountains supply the man-made Qiandao Lake with fresh, cold water. Each sturgeon has an identification number, and each tin has a code, which customers can use to trace the fish’s color as well as the results of its regular physicals.
Even so, Petrossian notes that his company takes multiple quality-control trips each year: “We check the water, the fish. Anything that we get from China we make especially certain that it conforms to our standards.” At a tasting, the Huso Hybrid caviar proved exquisite. The large gray eggs have a softly saline taste and a terrific pop.
The list of top chefs buying Kaluga Queen continues to grow. At the new Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire in Shanghai, Kaluga’s product is featured in multiple dishes such as a slow poached egg with Champagne sauce. Le Comptoir chef Romain Chapel says it “tastes more refined and pure compared to a lot of imported ones.”
But to find out where it’s from, guests still need to ask.
(Economist) Science will win the technical battle against cancer. But that is only half the fight.
THE numbers are stark. Cancer claimed the lives of 8.8m people in 2015; only heart disease caused more deaths. Around 40% of Americans will be told they have cancer during their lifetimes. It is now a bigger killer of Africans than malaria. But the statistics do not begin to capture the fear inspired by cancer’s silent and implacable cellular mutiny. Only Alzheimer’s exerts a similar grip on the imagination.
Confronted with this sort of enemy, people understandably focus on the potential for scientific breakthroughs that will deliver a cure. Their hope is not misplaced. Cancer has become more and more survivable over recent decades owing to a host of advances, from genetic sequencing to targeted therapies. The five-year survival rate for leukemia in America has almost doubled, from 34% in the mid-1970s to 63% in 2006-12. America is home to about 15.5m cancer survivors, a number that will grow to 20m in the next ten years. Developing countries have made big gains, too: in parts of Central and South America, survival rates for prostate and breast cancer have jumped by as much as a fifth in only a decade.
From a purely technical perspective, it is reasonable to expect that science will one day turn most cancers into either chronic diseases or curable ones. But cancer is not fought only in the lab. It is also fought in doctors’ surgeries, in schools, in public-health systems and in government departments. The dispatches from these battlefields are much less encouraging.
First, the good news. Caught early, many cancers are now highly treatable. Three out of four British men who received a prostate-cancer diagnosis in the early 1970s did not live for another ten years; today four out of five do. Other cancers, such as those of the lung, pancreas and brain, are harder to find and treat. But as our Technology Quarterly in this issue shows, progress is being made. Techniques to enable early diagnosis include a device designed to detect cancer on the breath; blood tests can track fragments of DNA shed from tumours. Genome sequencing makes it ever easier to identify new drug targets.
The established trio of 20th-century cancer treatments—surgery, radiation and chemotherapy—are all still improving. Radiotherapists can create webs of gamma rays, whose intersections deliver doses high enough to kill tumours but which do less damage to healthy tissue as they enter and leave the body. Some new drugs throttle the growth of blood vessels bringing nutrients to tumours; others attack cancer cells’ own DNA-repair kits. Cancer may be relentless; so too is science.
The greatest excitement is reserved for immunotherapy, a new approach that has emerged in the past few years. The human immune system is equipped with a set of brakes that cancer cells are able to activate; the first immunotherapy treatment in effect disables the brakes, enabling white blood cells to attack the tumours. It is early days, but in a small subset of patients this mechanism has produced long-term remissions that are tantamount to cures. Well over 1,000 clinical trials of such treatments are under way, targeting a wide range of different cancers. It is even now possible to reprogram immune cells to fight cancer better by editing their genomes; the first such gene therapy was approved for use in America last month.
Yet cancer sufferers need not wait for the therapies of tomorrow to have a better chance of survival today. Across rich and poor countries, the survivability of cancer varies enormously. Men die at far higher rates than women in some countries; in other countries, at similar levels of development, they do comparably well. The five-year survival rate for a set of three common cancers in America and Canada is above 70%; Germany achieves 64%, whereas Britain manages a mere 52%. Disparities exist within countries, too. America does well in its treatment of cancer overall, but suffers extraordinary inequalities in outcomes. The death rate of black American men from all cancers is 24% higher than it is for white males; breast-cancer death rates among blacks are 42% higher than for whites. A diagnosis in rural America is deadlier than one in its cities.
Practical as well as pioneering
Variations between countries are partly a reflection of health-care spending: more than half of patients requiring radiotherapy in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to treatment. But big budgets do not guarantee good outcomes. Iceland and Portugal do not outspend England and Denmark on health care as a proportion of GDP, but past studies show wide variation in survivability in all cancers.
Instead, the problem is often how money is spent, not how much of it there is. To take one example, a vaccine exists against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cancers of the cervix in women, as well as cancers of the head and neck. Rwanda started a programme of routine vaccination in 2011, and aims to eradicate cervical cancer by 2020. Other countries are far less systematic. Vaccinations could help prevent cervical cancer in 120,000 Indian women each year.
Policymakers are not powerless. More can be done to verify which treatments (and combinations thereof) work best. A £1.3bn ($2bn) cancer-drug fund in England, which made expensive new medicines easier to obtain, did not assess the efficacy of the drugs it provided—a huge missed opportunity. Measuring the incidence and survival of cancer, through cancer registries, spotlights where patients are being failed. Access to health care matters, too: the number of Americans whose cancers were diagnosed at the earliest possible opportunity went up after Obamacare was enacted. And prevention remains the best cure of all. Efforts to rein in tobacco use averted 22m deaths (many of them to cancer) between 2008 and 2014. Yet only a tenth of the world’s population lives in countries where taxes make up at least three-quarters of the price of cigarettes, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Taxes and budgeting are a lot less exciting than tumour-zapping proton beams and antibodies with superpowers. But the decisions of technocrats are as important as the work of technicians. Cancer kills millions of people not simply for want of scientific advance, but also because of bad policy.
New research and led to calls for the EU to tighten up what is considered acceptable levels of pollution. [Shutterstock]
Dirty air can lead to women giving birth to smaller babies, according to new research which also warns that exposure to air pollution during pregnancy rivals the damage done by smoking.
A new study carried out by the universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen has revealed that Scottish babies exposed to dangerous air pollution breathed in by their mothers developed smaller heads and shorter bodies.
The research also showed that mothers who smoked during pregnancy, but who were exposed to less pollution, gave birth to children with similar defects.
The study only took into account a sampling pool in the northeast of Scotland, where air pollution is less pronounced than in cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow. The highest average concentrations detected during the study were 7.2 micrograms per cubic metre, far below the annual average of 10 mcg per cubic metre recommended by the WHO.
Lead scientist Dr Tom Clemens explained that his team’s findings showed that “a foetus with a non-smoking mother exposed to high pollution levels is only slightly better off than one with a smoking mother exposed to low levels of pollution”.
Clemens urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Union to review their separate definitions of what emission levels are considered acceptable.
Another recent study warned that massive spending by the G20 nations on fossil fuel subsidies has racked up healthcare-related costs in the excess of two trillion dollars, largely due to complications caused by exposure to air pollution.
It was the first time that a study of this nature took into account the impact on developing foetuses of particulate matter, which can enter the lungs and bloodstream. Data was collected via ultrasounds and maternity records of births between 2002 and 2011.
Study co-author Chris Dibben warned that while most mothers are aware of the dangers smoking posed to their unborn children, many might not be as clued up on the impact of air pollution. This is particularly true of people who live in less polluted areas.
Earlier this year, the European Commission acknowledged that more than 130 cities across the member states have broken air quality laws. Several countries have recently announced intentions to ban combustion engines in the near future in order to combat air pollution.
The Commission has also taken steps to try and rein in pollution levels. New standards for power plants came into effect earlier this month, leading many energy firms to question whether it is economically more feasible to bring their plants up to code or simply shut them down.