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By Dr Marina Della Giusta, Associate Professor of Economics

Brexit continues to dominate public discourses, the news and our lives, and yet the majority of us, regardless of how we voted in the referendum, still struggle with the complexity of the issues involved in leaving the EU, and do not have a clear understanding of the consequences.

Is it because government, the press and the experts have not done a good job informing us? Or is it that we do not trust them, and prefer to base our decisions on other sources of information?

The year 2016 has been declared the year of post-truth politics, in which appeals to emotions (pathos) superseded the significance of factual evidence-based information (logos) largely affecting people’s constructions and interpretations of events.

Social text-based media sites such as Twitter play the key tools in the dissemination of this new rhetoric, and analysing the networks and the language used in social media can help understand the impact and credibility of information from different sources and the role of trust and emotions in social media discourses and the forming of public opinion, even though of course they are not a representative sample of the whole population (for example they are typically younger and wealthier than a representative sample).

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By Dr Craig Steel, Deputy Director of the Charlie Waller Institute for Evidence Based Psychological Treatments

Last weekend (17-21 November 2017), Dr Dirk Corstens (a psychiatrist from the Netherlands and chair of intervoice www.intervoiceonline.org) and I hosted the first meeting of ‘Talking with Voices’ at the University of Reading which included invited colleagues from the U.K, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Norway, Serbia and Australia. We gathered with the aim to share ideas on clinical practice and future research in the area of hearing voices.

Hearing voices, or auditory hallucinations, are often associated with severe mental health problems such as schizophrenia.However, recent decades have seen an increased awareness of the fact that voice hearing occurs within a significant percentage of the public, many of whom are not distressed by this experience, and do not seek psychiatric help. Those who do suffer distress associated with hearing voices are usually offered medication and encouraged to think of their voices as a symptom of a disease, e.g. schizophrenia.

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By Christian Pfrang, Department of Chemistry, University of Reading

 

Our new study found surprisingly complex arrangements of molecules inside droplets mimicking atmospheric aerosols.

These types of aerosols are typical of pollution emitted in large quantities by cooking processes in Greater London. This self-assembly is caused by molecules –such as fatty acids– containing both water-loving and water-hating parts.  While the general concept of self-assembly is well-known and surface films of these molecules have been studied before, complex three-dimensional arrangements inside water-based droplets found in the atmosphere have not previously been considered.

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By Dr Patrick Lewis, Associate Professor of Pharmacy

Theresa May speaking at a reception held at 10 Downing Street.

200 years ago the disorder that we now know as Parkinson’s disease was first described by James Parkinson, a surgeon and apothecary who lived in Hoxton, on the edge of the City of London.

On Monday I was fortunate to be invited to a reception at Downing Street hosted by the Prime Minister and Parkinson’s UK to mark this occasion. This brought together people with Parkinson’s, researchers and political leaders to highlight the challenges that are still faced by individuals living with Parkinson’s, their families, friends and carers despite the two centuries of research into this disorder.

Most importantly, there is still no disease modifying therapy – that is, a drug or intervention that either slows down or stops the progress of the brain cell loss that causes the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

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By Dr Mark Shanahan, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

Deep Space Gateway in lunar orbit as proposed in 2017

This week, in the run-up to World Space Week, NASA announced a long-term co-operation project with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency to develop the Deep Space Gateway, a manned space station orbiting the moon.

The US agency sees this project as a stepping stone towards a manned mission to Mars. While of course there’s no detail, no dates and no certainty that this project has any more certainty than the mirage of the Southern border Wall, it’s a quite different take on space exploration by the Trump administration. Read the rest of this entry »

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By Laura Thei, University of Reading, UK

Reproduced with permission from The Physiological Society’s blog.

The watch, worn by years of use, sits ticking on our table for the first time in two years. It has a simple ivory face and is the last memorabilia my partner has from Grandad Percy. Percy passed from us after a long personal battle with dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease. It is in his name that my partner and I will take to the beautiful winding pathways beside the Thames, to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society.

We will be taking part in a 7 km Memory Walk, with thousands of others, some my colleagues from the University, each sponsored generously by friends and families, each who has had their life touched by this disease in some way. Last year nearly 80,000 people took part in 31 walks, raising a record £6.6 million. As a researcher in Alzheimer’s disease, I am acutely aware of every penny’s impact in helping to solve the riddle of dementia.  Read the rest of this entry »

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An MQ-9 Reaper drone on a runway

An MQ-9 Reaper drone on a runway

By Dr Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne,
Associate Professor in Public International Law, University of Reading

A recent BBC news article reported on the development of a new, smaller type of armed drone that is able to aim and fire at targets in mid-flight, close to the ground. The drone is available for private sale, and the article notes the concern that such weapons technology could fall into the ‘wrong hands’ and be employed by terrorist organisations to target civilians. Indeed, it has been reported that Islamic State now uses low-cost drones in lethal ways by attaching explosives to them.

It is right to ask what happens if these weapons fall into the ‘wrong hands’. But whose, then, are the ‘right hands’? The assumption here, of course, is that States will use drones in a more reasonable, limited and law-abiding way. But we must not lose sight of the dangers potentially posed by drones in the hands of States.

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By Dr Simonetta Longhi, Associate Professor of Economics

Despite more than 20 years of anti-discrimination legislation in the UK, ethnic minorities on average are still paid less than the white British majority.  This is not something which is unique to the UK: ethnic and racial wage differentials are common in many developed countries.

But why?

There is no lack of academic research on this issue, so let’s look at what we have we learned. Although it is difficult to quantify, discrimination in the labour market is likely to play a role; but there are likely to be other factors.

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By Dr Gunter Kuhnle, Nutritional epidemiologist, University of Reading

A few years ago, the decision by the WHO to classify processed meat as carcinogenic to humans has resulted in a lot of headlines. Unsurprisingly, comparing a full English breakfast with cigarettes didn’t go down too well.

This was of course an exaggeration – but the fact remains that processed meat consumption can increase the risk of bowel cancer.

So what are the real risks?

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Earthworms are soil ecosystem engineers.  They are the key soil organisms that influence soil biology, nutrient availability and soil physical structure; and their abundance has been linked to significantly improving plant productivity.  The importance of earthworms has long been recognised, Charles Darwin stated “Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind; agriculture as we know it would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible”.

However, natures ploughs, specifically large, deep burrowing earthworms, are decimated by conventional tillage.  This soil management practice accounts for >95 % of all conventional and organic cereal production in the UK. So, is this a threat we should be concerned about, could there be a future where no earthworms = no bread?  Soil management practices that sustain abundant deep burrowing earthworm populations often require a drastic change in conventional thinking.

The conversion from conventional tillage to conservation agriculture is the adoption of a new farming system using zero tillage (using specialised machinery), diverse crop rotations and permanent soil cover (such as mulches); and my research is investigating the impact of this system on soil health and crop productivity.  However, this system is not without controversy when #glyphosateisvital to zero tillage agronomy; igniting the public debate on ‘sustainable agriculture’.  Earthworms are a vital part of the soil system that generate key ecosystem services, the question is, do they play any role in producing the food that you choose to eat?

The impact of deep burrowing earthworms on soils is being showcased at our half-term event #wormscience at the Science Museum in London from the 29 – 31st May between 11 – 1pm; 2 – 4pm.

Dr Jackie Stroud, Soil Security Programme

This post is one of several posts about our work as part of the Soil Security Programme for Global Soil Week. Find out more about our work here.

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