A network of words connected by lines. The words are abusive and sexualised and reference Kamala Harris

As Vice President Kamala Harris settles into her first full week in the White House, thousands are heading online to celebrate her groundbreaking achievement. Unfortunately, thousands more are flooding social media with sexualised, transphobic, and racist posts which continue to highlight the particular abuse faced by female politicians online. My colleagues and I studied this abuse in the weeks leading up to the 2020 US presidential election, revealing how trolls and abusers commonly use coded language and dog whistles to evade the moderation efforts of social media companies. This evolution of online hate speech undermines the “automated moderation” tools that platforms are currently using to tackle hate speech. Read more: To publish or not to publish? The media’s free-speech dilemmasContinue Reading

Five ways artificial intelligence can help space exploration

Various types of astronaut assistant are in development. Michal Bednarek/shutterstock.com Artificial intelligence has been making waves in recent years, enabling us to solve problems faster than traditional computing could ever allow. Recently, for example, Google’s artificial intelligence subsidiary DeepMind developed AlphaFold2, a program which solved the protein-folding problem. This is a problem which has had baffled scientists for 50 years. Advances in AI have allowed us to make progress in all kinds of disciplines – and these are not limited to applications on this planet. From designing missions to clearing Earth’s orbit of junk, here are a few ways artificial intelligence can help us venture further in space. Astronaut assistants CIMON will assist astronauts on the International Space Station. NASA/KimContinue Reading

Whale sharks: boat strikes in protected areas could be harming the animals' development

Whale sharks are the ocean's biggest fish. jjsupasit srisawthsak/shutterstock.com The biggest fish in the ocean, whale sharks, are incredible animals. They can reach lengths of over 18 metres and weigh more than 19,000kg. Each shark has a unique pattern of spots on its body, like a fingerprint. The number of whale sharks in our oceans has been in decline for years and as a result the species is endangered. Recently, efforts to conserve the animals through ecotourism have been severely impacted by the pandemic. Marine protected areas (MPAs), where human activities like fishing are restricted, are an important tool when it comes to the global conservation of many animals in the sea, including whale sharks. But our new study showsContinue Reading

An Alpine accentor bird on a rock

Dinosaur fossils have always amazed with their horns and spikes, enchanting us with elongated necks and foot-long teeth. But less attention has been paid to the dinosaur derriere – for reasons of taste, maybe, but also because it’s difficult to find a well-preserved bottom in the fossil record of our Mesozoic friends. But a chance encounter at a German museum has helped us understand the story behind one dinosaur’s behind, revealing that the creature’s back opening might have been “flashed” for communicative purposes – much like baboons use their bottoms for communication today. The dinosaur rear is different than the mammalian one we’re familiar with. Where mammals evolved separate openings for reproduction and the expulsion of faeces, dinosaurs and theirContinue Reading

Spitting cobras may have evolved unique venom to defend from ancient humans

Spitting cobras use their venom for defence. Stu Porter/shutterstock.com Cobras are fascinating and frightening creatures. These snakes are most well known for their characteristic defence mechanism called hooding, when the sides of their neck flare out in a dramatic display. However, hooding isn’t the only defensive behaviour in a cobra’s arsenal. Some species of cobra have modified fangs with small, front facing orifices. These allow them to forcibly eject venom as a spray or “spit”, which can hit the eyes of a target up to 2.5 metres away. For this behaviour, they are known as spitting cobras. Bizarrely, this unique adaptation has evolved three times independently in a small group of Afro-Asian snakes: once in African cobras, once in AsianContinue Reading

Cognitive decline due to ageing can be reversed in mice – here's what the new study means for humans

Memory declines with age. Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock The ageing global population is the greatest challenge faced by 21st-century healthcare systems. Even COVID-19 is, in a sense, a disease of ageing. The risk of death from the virus roughly doubles for every nine years of life, a pattern that is almost identical to a host of other illnesses. But why are old people vulnerable to so many different things? It turns out that a major hallmark of the ageing process in many mammals is inflammation. By that, I don’t mean intense local response we typically associate with an infected wound, but a low grade, grinding, inflammatory background noise that grows louder the longer we live. This “inflammaging” has been shown to contributeContinue Reading

When football clubs are less successful, fans are more loyal to each other

Fans of less successful clubs form more of a bond with each other. Motortion Films/shutterstock.com Football fans tend to be highly loyal to their group, just as the kin groups of our ancestral past would have been. This intense state of belonging, when a person feels as one with their group, is called identity fusion. My new study, looking at fans of the UK’s Premier League, found supporters of the most long-suffering clubs were more “fused” to their clubs. They even considered each other more like a family compared with fans of reliably successful clubs. Some fans even said they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, in a hypothetical situation, giving their own lives to save other supporters ofContinue Reading

Holographic history is making 'Night at the Museum' a reality

elRoce/Shutterstock For millions of children, being dragged to a museum is a singularly painful experience, marked by time standing still rather than history coming to life – as it does in the film “Night at the Museum”, starring Ben Stiller. But that all could change with the development of new “mixed reality” (MR) technology, which could inject new forms of interactive storytelling into our museums – introducing holographic tour guides and immersive digital displays in place of finger-smudged glass cabinets and faded information boards. Unlike the total immersion of virtual reality (VR), or the computer screen required for augmented reality (AR), MR uses a head-mounted glass display, similar to the Google Glass spectacles, which enables the user to see theirContinue Reading

'Male' vs 'female' brains: having a mix of both is common and offers big advantages – new research

How androgynous are you? Thomas Piercy, University of Cambridge., Author provided From advertising to the workplace, it is often assumed that men and women are fundamentally different – from Mars and Venus, respectively. Of course, we all know people who are more androgynous, having a mix of personality traits that are stereotypically considered to be male or female. Importantly, such “psychological androgyny” has long been associated with traits such as better cognitive flexibility (the mental ability to shift between different tasks or thoughts), social competence and mental health. But how does this relate to the brain? Are people who are more androgynous in their behaviour going against their biological nature, doing things that their brains are not optimised for? It’sContinue Reading

Starfish: rare fossil helps answer the mystery of how they evolved arms

Starfish are one of the most recognisable animals on our planet. Yellowj/shutterstock.com A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and palaeontology: how starfish evolved their arms. Starfish are one of the most recognisable animals on our planet. Most people probably associate them with trips to the beach, walking in rock pools or swimming in the sea. They might appear simple creatures, but the way these animals’ distinctive biology evolved was, until recently, unknown. Our new study, published in the journal Biology Letters, sheds light on how the starfish developed its distinctive shape. The mystery of starfish Starfish, and their close relatives the brittle stars,Continue Reading