Category Archives: Science

What are journal impact factors?

The impact factor (IF) of an academic journal is a measure reflecting the average number of citations to recent articles published in the journal. It is frequently used as a proxy for the relative importance of a journal within its field, with journals with higher impact factors deemed to be more important than those with lower ones.

Science 2012 Impact Factor 31.03

Nature 2012 impact factor 38.597

Since prestige refers to a person’s or in this case, an entity’s, perceived image or reputation, it’s highly subjective.

However, a concrete way of measuring these journals’ reputation might be looking at their impact factors. An academic journal’s impact factor reflects the average number of citations received by recently published articles in the journal.

In 2012 Science had an impact factor of 31.03 while Nature’s 2012 impact factor was 38.597.


Researchers continue to demonstrate that fish "feel" pain

When a fish is hooked and it fights being hauled into your boat, it’s not just playing with you. It’s more likely reacting to pain and trying to escape it, according to a stream of published research on fish physiology.

Several studies by researchers in Europe and the United States have found that when fish were exposed to pain in their mouth, gills and heads, pain signals are sent to the same region of the brain where birds and mammals process pain.

The study of animal neurobiology, cognition and behavior is still a relatively new field, but some of the research being published by animal biologists and neuroanatomists is of concern to animal rights activists interested in the humane treatment of other mammals, fish and birds.

In an article published last month in Spiegel International, author Günther Stockinger wrote:

“Researchers from Queen’s University, in Belfast, have proven that when fish are subjected to pain stimuli, the signals by no means simply ebb away in the spinal cord. Scientists have discovered sensitive skin areas directly behind the gill covers of goldfish and trout. Using implanted electrodes, they have been able to show that the nerve cells located there send signals directly to the fish’s brain.

“When researchers poked the animals with needles, a flurry of neuron messages were transmitted to the endbrain — the very region of the brain where pain signals are also processed by birds and mammals.”

Sport fishermen and other researchers, including zoologist James Rose, have dismissed the fish and pain research as anthropomorphism. While fish might react to pain, they don’t have the neurological ability to mentally process pain like humans do, say detractors. In other words, while fish react to pain, they don’t experience it the same way.

In a paper published in Reviews in Fisheries ScienceRose wrote:

“The literature on the neural basis of consciousness and of pain is reviewed, showing that: 1) behavioral responses to noxious stimuli are separate from the psychological experience of pain, (2) awareness of pain in humans depends on functions of specific regions of cerebral cortex, and (3) fishes lack these essential brain regions or any functional equivalent, making it untenable that they can experience pain.”

Free From Harm - an international organization focused on helping people understand how global food choices impact climate change, environmental degradation, poverty and animal suffering  — believes the studies are important. “We shouldn’t be surprised that the scientific study of animals is proving more and more that animals have far greater cognitive ability than we ever understood,” according to the group. “Since animals suffer mostly in silence and even hide their pain, this is not a surprising discovery.”

So far, the research into fish and pain has included only goldfish, trout, carp and zebra fish. That’s too limited to conclude that all fish species feel or react to pain the same way, according to an EU panel that is reviewing the research.

For the obvious reason, (we’re not fish!) we’ll never know exactly how fish process pain. It’s precisely because we can’t know that gentle and respectful handling of a caught fish, part of our circle of life, is always in order.

Egypt’s interim government accepts “Desert Development Corridor” plan

Egypt’s interim government has adopted a plan for developing a 1,200 kilometer stretch of desert along the Nile River Valley and delta developed by Boston University geologist Dr. Farouk El-Baz.

The “Desert Development Corridor” plan includes the construction of an eight-lane superhighway, a railway, a water pipeline, and a power line. The goal of the infrastructure plan, estimated to cost about $24 billion, is to improve the water supply and open new land for agriculture, urban development, and tourism, said El-Baz.

Details of the project are in El-Baz’s book, Development Corridor: Securing a Better Future for Egypt, published in Cairo in 2007.

El-Baz, a native Egyptian, is a prominent research scientist and director of Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing. He also served NASA’s Apollo lunar exploration program.

The university said El-Baz originally proposed the plan to Egypt’s former government in 1985. After Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in early February, El-Baz traveled to Egypt to meet with government leaders and the general public to explain the plan and how it would “reinvigorate the country” and open up new living space near the Nile River.

“This project includes opening up a vast strip of Egypt just west of the narrow living area along the Nile that can be utilized in establishing housing communities, expanding agriculture, initiating industrial compounds, and enhancing the potential of tourism,” said El-Baz. “Most importantly, the activity opens up the possibility of a bright future for the young generation. One that is full of new opportunities where they may innovate and excel.”

El-Baz suggested that the government name an international board of trustees to run the program and seek initial funding from bonds to be offered to the Egyptian people who would own the project, according to El-Baz.

Concerns rise as robust flavor of India black tea falls

For millions of people around the planet a morning without the strong wake-up call of India black tea is like a day without a smile.

Climate change is thought to be the culprit behind the weakening of their favorite morning refresher, black tea also known as breakfast tea, and is likely to force them to start looking for a new picker-upper to put that smile back on their faces.

This strong tea acclaimed for it’s hearty, strong taste and hefty body is showing signs of subtle changes and producing what experts are calling weak tea.

Grown in the humid northeast region of India, the state of Assam is the prime producer of some of the best black and British-style teas.

The unwelcome weakness in the tea has growers concerned.

Rajib Barooah, a tea planter in Jorhat, Assam’s main tea growing region, also believes that the potent taste and rich flavor of Assam tea has weakened.

“We are indeed concerned,” he said. “Assam tea’s strong flavor is its hallmark.”

Tea growers are strongly urging the Indian government to fund studies to figure out if climate change is the real cause for tea plants to weaken and lose their robust flavor.

Growers and scientists believe several factors related to climate change are to blame.

Over the past 80 years the area’s temperatures have risen 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (two degrees Celsius), said Mridul Hazarika, director of the Tea Research Association, which is one of the world’s largest tea research centers.

These same scientists are also researching the causal relationship between temperature rise and fluctuations in rainfall.

“Days with sunshine were far fewer during the (monsoon) rains this year,” said Dhiraj Kakaty, head of the Assam Branch Indian Tea Association, “leading to a shortfall in production and damp weather unfavorable for tea.”

Added into the mix is the fact that dampness fosters increased attacks on the tea crops by the tea mosquito, which thrives in rainier weather. The insects attack new tea bush shoots, and controlling the tea pests has been made more difficult by restrictions on pesticides because of environmental concerns, Kakaty said.

To illustrate how vitally important the tea-growing industry is to India, in addition to exporting nearly a half-million tons of tea every year, the industry also employs approximately three million people across the country