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Dr Mai Sato has just published a report examining Zimbabwean citizens’ attitudes towards the death penalty in their country which concludes that public opinion needn’t pose a barrier to its abolition. She explains more in this new post for The Conversation.

At the end of 2017, the world watched with keen interest as President Robert Mugabe was deposed after 37 years of ruinous rule, and replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who promised “a new democracy”.

The change of power is also significant for those interested in Zimbabwe’s death penalty policy. Mugabe, around the time of his departure from office, had plans to resume executions. Advertisements were placed to recruit a hangman – a position that had been vacant since 2005. Mnangagwa, on the other hand, has been vocal in his opposition to the death penalty. Significantly, he himself had faced the prospect of being hanged under the government of Ian Smith, against which he fought during the liberation war.

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The vast numbers and diversity of living things that populate our planet are in catastrophic decline – referred to by many scientists as Earth’s sixth mass extinction. But as Matthew Greenwell and Tom Oliver explain, it’s not only declining biodiversity we need to worry about but also genetic diversity within species.

Biodiversity loss (the decline of both the number of individuals and species from our landscapes) is happening at an alarming rate and it’s happening now.

This is a view expressed by countless environmentalists, green campaigners and scientists at ever increasing volumes. At a glance though it is hard to see what all the fuss is about. England still appears to be a green and pleasant land, with vast areas still covered in fields.

But therein lies the fundamental problem. Our current views and understanding of what the countryside should be are a far cry from what they once were and what our wildlife requires to survive into the future.

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It’s Dementia Action Week. Reading researchers are tackling the problem of dementia on all fronts, from investigating its causes to how we can improve care and quality of life for those it affects. Today we speak to Professor Arlene Astell, who uses sound and video to trigger long-term memories in people with dementia and get them talking again.

“People with dementia often withdraw from social interactions, lose confidence and feel embarrassed about their condition – their world shrinks. We want to find ways to stimulate their mind and memories and improve their quality of life,” explains Arlene Astell, who is Professor of Neurocognitive Disorders in Reading’s School of Psychology and Language Sciences.

“One of the questions we’re asking in our research is ‘What makes life more enjoyable for people with dementia – what are the activities and pastimes they can do that give them the same pleasure and satisfaction that they had before?’”

Arlene and colleagues are doing this through the use of technology. Working with the BBC to use their sound and TV archive they have developed touch-screen software, called the Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid (CIRCA). The software uses audio and video clips of evocative sounds, music and images from the past – such the whine of an electric milk float, a picture of a 1950s street scene or a recording of Winston Churchill speaking on the radio.

 

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Many laws across the world that make homosexuality a crime were imposed during rule by the British Empire. Joseph O’Mahoney attempts to unpick why these stigmatising laws persist in a new post for The Conversation co-authored by Enze Han.

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In a new post for The Conversation, John Preston looks at how the work of 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was shaped by his love for a young mathematician, who died in an air crash a century ago.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (Wikimedia commons

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The language the oil industry uses to talk about climate change has altered over time as it attempts to distance itself from culpability, says linguistics specialist Dr Sylvia Jaworska in a new post for The Conversation.

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Professor Howard Colquhoun tells the story of how an infinitely repeating pattern discovered in a plastic molecule relates to obscure 19th century maths – and Romanesco broccoli.

In 1874, Henry J. S. Smith, Professor of Geometry in the University of Oxford, had an interesting thought. “What would happen,” he wondered, “if you took a line, divided it into four, and then threw away the end quarter?”

Well, obviously, you would be left with a line three-quarters as long as the original.

But Smith’s next question was more subtle. “What would happen if you repeated this operation on the line that was left, and then continued to do this indefinitely?”

When Smith worked through the problem, it turned out that he had discovered the first ever example of a fractal, a mathematical structure that is made up of an infinite number of progressively smaller copies of itself.

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It’s 65 years since Watson and Crick published their world-changing paper on the structure of DNA – a discovery they and Rosalind Franklin made using a technique called X-ray diffraction. To mark the anniversary we spoke to Dr James Hall, who uses the same technique today to study molecules which light up when they detect damaged DNA. This could pave the way for future diagnostic tests for diseases such as cancer.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming many human activities ranging from daily chores to highly sophisticated tasks. But unlike many other industries, the higher education sector has yet to be really influenced by AI, says Nafis Alam in a new post for The Conversation.

Uber has disrupted the taxi sector, Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry and Amazon disrupted first the bookselling sector, then the whole retail industry. It is only a matter of time then until the higher education sector undergoes a significant transformation.

Within a few short years, universities may well have changed beyond all recognition. Here are five ways that AI will help to change and shape the future of universities and higher education for the better.

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For a few short hours earlier this month, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers were not labelled by the Israeli government as ‘infiltrators’, but as ‘protected populations’. Dr Ruvi Ziegler explains more in a new post for The Conversation.

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