|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Science Magazine / Feb. 1, 2017
Ancient women found in Russian cave were close relatives of today's indigenous population
Международный коллектив ученых (Великобритания, Россия, Германия, Южная Корея) провел генетический анализ ДНК людей, живших на территории российского Дальнего Востока более 7000 лет назад, и установил, что современные жители Северо-Восточной Азии очень похожи на них по генетическому составу, особенно тунгусо-маньчжурские народы и (в меньшей степени) японцы и корейцы.
The ancient DNA of two 7700-year-old women from a mountainous cave in Far East Russia suggests they were closely related to the people who live in this remote and frigid corner of Asia today. The new discovery also suggests that in this region, farming spread through gradual cultural changes, rather than by an influx of farming people.
"The main significance is this finding of continuity over about 7000 years," says Mark Stoneking of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who wasn't involved with the work. This contrasts with many archaeological sites in Russia, Europe, and the Americas where ancient humans are rarely directly related to living people nearby, thanks to wholesale migration and mixing since the invention of agriculture about 12,000 years ago.
The ancient women were discovered in Chertovy Vorota Cave, known as Devil's Gate Cave in English. The site was of particular interest to population geneticist Andrea Manica of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom because the skeletons of five humans were found with pottery, harpoons, and the remnants of nets and mats woven from twisted blades of wild sedge grass - which some (but not all) researchers consider a rudimentary form of early agriculture.
DNA was extracted from the teeth, inner ear bones, and other skull bones from two of the skeletons from Devil's Cave, and Hungarian graduate student Veronika Siska was able to sequence enough of the nuclear genome to compare it to hundreds of genomes of modern Europeans and Asians. The team found that the two Devil's Gate Cave women were most closely related to the Ulchi, indigenous people who today live a few hundred kilometers north of the cave in the Amur Basin where they have long fished, hunted, and grown some of their food. The ancient women also were related to other people who speak the remaining and endangered 75 or so Tungusic languages spoken by dwindling numbers of ethnic people in eastern Siberia and China. They were also related to a lesser extent to modern Koreans and Japanese.
The women also looked like people in the Amur Basin today - they had genes that suggest they had brown eyes; straight, thick hair; skin color similar to the Asian people; and shovel-shaped incisors, similar to Asians. They also were lactose intolerant, which meant they could not digest the sugars in milk - and probably did not herd animals that could be milked.
The Ulchi and other Amur groups show no evidence of inheriting a significant amount of DNA from any other, later group of people, the team reports today in Science Advances. This suggests that they were part of one continuous population that evolved in the region for at least 7700 years. If so, farming was not introduced to this remote and frigid corner of Asia by a major influx of migrants, but adopted instead by local hunter-gatherers who progressively added food-producing practices to their original lifestyle, Manica says.
Several paleogeneticists agree that the study has shown remarkable continuity between the ancient cave women and the Ulchi. Researchers disagree, though, whether the research shows that farming spread by diffusion of ideas in this part of Asia rather than being introduced by a major wave of farmers, as in Europe. There, Anatolian farmers from the Near East swept into Europe with a package of artifacts including tools, seeds, and domesticated animals, and replaced or interbred with the local hunter-gatherers 12,000 to 8000 years ago. "The two Devil's Gate Cave samples are hunter-gatherers and thus the results say little about the spread of the [fully developed] agricultural package," says paleogeneticist David Reich of Harvard University.
Archaeologist Francesco d'Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France, however, thinks that both the archaeology and genetics in Europe and now, in Eastern Asia, demonstrate that agriculture spread in different ways in different places. It "is a complex process in which in some cases people moved with their ideas and technology; in other cases, only the technology moved," says d'Errico, not an author of the study. The best way to test this, says Stoneking, would be to get ancient DNA from the earliest farmers in the region.
© 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights Reserved.
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EurekAlert / 3-Feb-2017
Study traces black carbon sources in the Russian Arctic
Одной из причин того, что арктические регионы нагреваются быстрее всего на планете (сейчас средняя температура там на 4°С выше, чем в 1968-1996 гг.), считается черный углерод, или сажа, который выбрасывается в атмосферу из близких к Арктике источников.
Международное исследование, в котором принимали участие российские ученые (Тихоокеанский океанологический институт РАН и Томский политехнический университет), показало, что 35% сажи в российской Арктике берется от источников отопления жилых домов, 38% - от транспорта, а вот на открытый огонь, электростанции и факельное сжигание газа приходится лишь соответственно 12%, 9% и 6%.
According to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 35% of black carbon in the Russian Arctic originates from residential heating sources, 38% comes from transport, while open fires, power plants, and gas flaring are responsible for only 12%, 9%, and 6% respectively. These estimates confirm previous work for some areas of the European Arctic, but for Siberia, the findings differ from previous research, which had suggested that contribution from gas flaring were much higher.
Black carbon, or soot, increases snow and ice melt by dulling the reflective surface and increasing the absorption of sunlight. Researchers say this is one reason that Arctic regions have warmed faster than any other area on the planet, with average temperatures there today over 4°C higher than the 1968-1996 average, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). Black carbon may also be contributing to the steep decline in summer Arctic sea ice coverage in recent decades.
"Reducing black carbon pollution holds some potential for climate change mitigation, especially in the Arctic, but in order to take effective action, we have to know where it is coming from. This study provides better data, but also shows that we need more information about source structure and spatial distribution of pollution in the Arctic," explains IIASA researcher Zbigniew Klimont, who worked on the study.
The location of black carbon emissions matters, explains Klimont, because black carbon emitted from the sources closer to the Arctic leads to greater warming (per unit of emitted black carbon) compared to sources further from the region. "High-latitude sources are especially important. Even though China, for example, releases much more black carbon than Arctic regions, reductions there have less impact per kilogram than reductions in the Arctic."
This research drew on IIASA research that was part of a European-Union funded project, Evaluating the Climate and Air Quality Impacts of Short-lived Pollutants (ECLIPSE). Researchers used the ECLIPSE emissions and an atmospheric transport model and compared the predictions with measurements and carbon isotope analysis of samples at Arctic research stations. While the study found good agreement between model estimates of black carbon concentrations and measurements for the European Arctic site, they found a mismatch between the modeled and measured results for the Russian Arctic site. The researchers developed a better method to attribute pollution to its sources by incorporating new data from Tiksi, a research station in the far eastern region of Siberia into the model. This improved attribution highlights the more important role of residential heating and transport sources while lesser relevance of gas flaring at this far-East Siberian site.
"There is widespread gas flaring in the Russian Arctic. Yet, the magnitude of gas flaring related black carbon and other combustion related emissions and the specific carbon-isotopic fingerprint are not very well understood. In order to better assess the role of black carbon pollution in the Arctic and to target its sources for mitigation, we need to measure the isotopic fingerprint of the gas flaring sources," says Patrik Winiger, a researcher at Stockholm University in Sweden who led the study.
© 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights Reserved.
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The Independent / February 7, 2017
Russian Academy of Sciences says homeopathy is dangerous "pseudoscience" that does not work
Damning report urges people to treat homeopathy "on a par with magic".
Меморандум Российской академии наук признал гомеопатию лженаукой.
The Russian Academy of Sciences has become the latest body to declare homeopathy has "no scientific basis" and endangers people who believe it to be effective.
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A memorandum issued by the Commission Against Pseudoscience and Falsification of Scientific Research described the "treatments" as pseudoscientific, saying that attempts to verify their success had failed for over 200 years.
"Homeopathy is not innocuous: patients spend heavily on non-performing drugs and neglected means of treatment with proven effectiveness," a statement said. "This can lead to adverse outcomes, including death of the patient."
Homeopathy, which has become a popular method of alternative medicine across the Western world, is based on the principle of "like treats like" and follows ideas developed by a German doctor called Samuel Hahnemann in the 1790s.
It sees practitioners dilute substances that cause certain symptoms, using the "succussion" method, in the belief the substance can cause the body to heal itself.
But Russian researchers said numerous proposed explanations "contradict known chemical, physical and biological laws" and could not be verified. "Homeopathy originated in an era when the most important principles of the chemistry and biology of the molecule properties and existence of microbes had not yet been accepted," they said. "[We call on the media] to present homeopathy as a pseudoscience on a par with magic, healing and psychic practices."
The memorandum said homeopathy should not have a place in Russia's national health system, making recommendations to the ministry of health and other bodies to introduce mandatory labelling stating homeopathy is not proven to work and "protect citizens from misleading advertising".
The same recommendation was made by the American Federal Trade Commission in November, with the government agency requiring that producers need to state that "there is no scientific evidence that the product works" on packaging.
Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council said was no evidence that homeopathy was effective in 2015, when the University of Barcelona also scrapped its course in the "treatment" following the death of a six-year-old boy.
In the UK, two NHS hospitals offer homeopathy as well as some GP services, despite the body declaring that "there is no good quality evidence that homeopathy is an effective treatment".
A report released in 2010 by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said that homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos, and that the principles on which homeopathy is based are "scientifically implausible".
Le Courrier de Russie / 7 février 2017
Maël Brossard, scientifique à Skolkovo : "J'essaie de créer des liens entre la science et les arts"
Situé à l'ouest de Moscou, le centre de recherche et développement Skolkovo est un projet initié afin d'encourager la création de start-ups.
Интервью с Маэлем Броссаром, французским физиком, работающим в Сколково в лаборатории гибридной фотоники. Имеет ли Сколково международное влияние, почему надо совмещать научный подход с творческим и как стимулировать воображение ученых?
Maël Brossard, 30 ans, est le seul chercheur français à travailler au sein de Skolkovo, ce nouveau centre de recherche et développement, près de Moscou, qui a pour mission de faire avancer la science russe. Le jeune homme s'est confié au Courrier de Russie.
Le Courrier de Russie : Comment avez-vous été amené à travailler à Skolkovo ?
Maël Brossard : J'ai terminé une licence de physique à Grenoble et un master en nanoscience à Paris. En 2010, je suis allé en Angleterre, pour entreprendre une thèse - achevée en 2015 - en photonique hybride [concerne l'étude et la fabrication de composants, tels les cellules photovoltaïques et cristaux photoniques], sous la direction du professeur Pavlos Lagoudakis, C'est lui qui m'a parlé de Skolkovo, où il dirige le groupe de recherche en photonique hybride. Il cherchait quelqu'un pour gérer le laboratoire. Et je suis arrivé à l'Institut de science et technologie Skoltech en mars 2016.
LCDR : En quoi consiste votre travail à Skoltech ?
M.B. : Je gère le laboratoire de photonique hybride et travaille avec une équipe composée d'une douzaine de chercheurs russes. Nos recherches se concentrent principalement autour de deux axes : la photonique hybride et les matériaux quantiques. Nous collaborons souvent avec d'autres pays, comme l'Angleterre, les États-Unis et Taïwan. En revanche, nous avons très peu d'échanges avec la France : il me semble que dans notre domaine, la recherche là-bas est surtout théorique, alors que notre équipe, à Skoltech, se concentre davantage sur la pratique.
LCDR : Qu'en est-il du rayonnement international de Skolkovo, d'ailleurs ?
M.B. : Il y a une collaboration active avec l'international, même si, dans le même temps, il est assez compliqué de faire venir à Skolkovo des chercheurs étrangers pour travailler de manière permanente. La grande majorité des collaborateurs sont russes. J'ai l'impression qu'il y a toujours beaucoup d'apriori négatifs, dans le monde, sur le fait d'aller vivre et travailler en Russie. Surtout après les sanctions, lesquelles, à mon sens, n'ont rien arrangé.
LCDR : Peut-on qualifier Skolkovo de "Sillicon Valley russe" ?
M.B. : C'est difficile à dire, pour le moment. Le parc, tout récent, ne bénéficie pas encore d'une grande notoriété. Notre laboratoire, par exemple, a à peine un an, et il est parmi les premiers à avoir été créés ! La réputation de Skolkovo se développe peu à peu. Beaucoup d'argent a été investi, notamment par le gouvernement et quelques oligarques. Mais cela ne suffit pas forcément pour être reconnu dans le monde de la science.
LCDR : C'est-à-dire ?
M.B. : Je pense que ce qui manque à Skolkovo - et en général à la recherche russe -, c'est de la créativité. Les scientifiques en Russie sont très carrés, très linéaires. Or, dans la recherche, il faut savoir regarder un peu dans toutes les directions et surtout être flexible, ce que les Russes ont vraiment du mal à faire. À mon avis, cette linéarité les bride fortement dans leur travail, et c'est vraiment dommage, car ce pays possède énormément de gens très intelligents. Mais pas forcément créatifs…
LCDR : Faut-il alors revoir l'approche scientifique en Russie ?
M.B. : Il me semble qu'il faut surtout adopter une approche plus moderne, plus innovante. J'ai d'ailleurs du mal à comprendre ce phénomène, car Moscou est une ville tellement créative ! Il s'y passe plein de choses. Je suis surpris qu'il n'y ait aucun lien entre les arts et la science, par exemple. Les scientifiques russes restent entre eux, ils n'ont pas d'amis artistes. À Skolkovo, j'essaie d'ailleurs, également, d'axer mon travail dans cette direction et de faire bouger les choses, de créer des liens entre ces deux mondes.
LCDR : Que faites-vous, concrètement ?
M.B. : Je préside le Comité des jeunes chercheurs de Skolkovo. Nous avons plusieurs projets. Pour rester sur cette idée de la science et des arts, j'ai une amie artiste qui propose des ateliers de créativité à Moscou, et j'aimerais l'inviter à Skolkovo afin qu'elle stimule l'imagination de nos chercheurs. Le but est d'insister sur la fonction sociale de la science. Tout est question, d'ailleurs, de motivation et d'idées souvent plus que de moyens. Et je dois dire que le président de Skoltech, Alexander Kuleshov, est quelqu'un de très ouvert, il est très réceptif à nos projets et nous soutient beaucoup.
LCDR : Vous vous voyez rester longtemps en Russie, en tant que chercheur ?
M.B. : J'aime beaucoup Moscou et travailler à Skolkovo me convient. Nous bénéficions d'une liberté et d'une flexibilité assez larges, ainsi que des moyens nécessaires pour conduire nos recherches. Je sens qu'il y plein de choses à faire ici et c'est motivant.
Skolkovo en bref.
Situé à l'ouest de Moscou, le centre de recherche et développement Skolkovo est un projet initié en 2009 par Dmitri Medvedev, alors président, afin d'encourager la création de start-ups dans les domaines de l'énergie, des technologies de l'Espace, des télécommunications, du nucléaire et de la biotechnologie. Skoltech, ouvert en 2011, est l'institut de technologie de Skolkovo.
En chiffres. Le parc technologique de Skolkovo, aujourd'hui, c'est :
290,1 millions de roubles investis (4,6 millions d'euros) ;
652 emplois ;
95 entreprises implantées ;
Des partenariats de taille : Boeing, Cisco Systems, EADS, Airbus, IBM, Microsoft, Siemens, Nokia, etc. ont notamment signé avec Skolkovo des contrats de coopération en recherche et développement.
© Le Courrier de Russie 2017.
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Phys.org / February 9, 2017
A Big Data approach to cataloging galaxies
Астрономы МГУ совместно с французскими коллегами создали каталог RCSED (Reference Catalog of Spectral Energy Distributions of galaxies) с информацией о 800 тысячах галактик, с указанием звездного состава, яркости в диапазонах длин волн от ультрафиолетового до инфракрасного и ряда других параметров. Это самый большой в мире подобный набор данных, который к тому же планируется расширять далее.
Описание каталога опубликовано в журнале The Astrophysical Journal.
Astronomers at Lomonosov Moscow State University and collaborators have released "The Reference Catalog of galaxy SEDs" (RCSED), which contains value-added information about 800,000 galaxies. The catalog is accessible online, and the researchers have reported on their development in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement. Two co-authors are undergraduate students at the Faculty of Physics, Lomonosov Moscow State University. While still working on the catalog, the team has published a few research papers based on their data, including a recent study in Science.
RCSED describes properties of 800,000 galaxies derived from elaborated data analysis. For every galaxy, it presents its stellar composition, brightness at ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared wavelengths. From RCSED, researchers can also access galaxy spectra obtained by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, measurements of spectral lines, and properties determined from this data, such as the chemical composition of stars and gas. This makes RCSED the first catalog of its kind that contains detailed homogeneous analysis for such a large number of objects.
Dr. Igor Chilingarian, an astronomer at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, USA and a lead researcher at Sternberg Astronomical Institute, Lomonosov Moscow State University, says, "For every galaxy, we also provide a small cutout image from three sky surveys, which shows how the galaxy appears at different wavelengths. This provides us with the data for further investigations."
Dr. Ivan Katkov, a Senior Researcher at Sternberg Astronomical Institute adds, "The analysis of emission line profiles presented in RCSED is substantially more detailed and accurate then the data published in other catalogs."
RCSED is flexible and easy to use. By entering the object name or its coordinates in the search field, the website provides a single page of information referring to that object. Users can also access the catalog through Virtual Observatory applications such as TOPCAT. The RCSED website also provides tutorials including a technique that Igor Chilingarian and Ivan Zolotukhin exploited to discover new compact elliptical galaxies, they published in the research paper "Isolated compact elliptical galaxies: Stellar systems that ran away".
Citizen scientists assisted in the development of the project website. Among them were high-level experts in software development and web design, who have daytime jobs in Russian tech companies.
Dr. Ivan Katkov adds: "The RCSED catalog was possible thanks to the application of an interdisciplinary Big Data approach, as we had to apply very complex scientific algorithms to a large dataset in a massively parallel way. Eventually, the expertise and resources available at large IT companies would undoubtedly allow researchers to significantly increase the quality and the quantity of research results and to make many important discoveries in astrophysics."
The fact that the RCSED catalog has attracted serious interest in the scientific community even during its assembly phase proves its great potential. During the last three years, several external researchers were given the access to the catalog on request and, using RCSED data, published over a dozen articles in peer-reviewed journals. The catalog is the world's largest homogeneous, value-added dataset for nearby galaxies, containing information collected with ground-based and space telescopes.
The current release of the RCSED catalog could have comprised a larger number of galaxies or contained extra bits of information about the currently included objects, but the scientists decided to focus on well-characterized datasets, which are described in detail and have known advantages and disadvantages. However, taking into account the project's importance for extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology, the RCSED team is going to move forward and expand the catalog in the near future.
There are two principal directions of further RCSED development: the galaxy sample expansion and incorporating new data for existing objects. The team is considering including near- and mid-infrared data from the WISE satellite all-sky survey for the entire galaxy sample. However, this requires additional methodical work in order to homogenize the data for galaxies at different redshifts.
Moreover, it is possible to expand the principal galaxy sample by including spectra from the latest data release of the SDSS-III survey. This will turn 800,000 to 1.5 million objects.
Incorporating the publicly available spectral data from the Hectospec archive will add 300,000 to 400,000 objects at larger distances, whose spectra were collected with the 6.5-meter MMT telescope in Arizona. The current RCSED release comprises mostly nearby galaxies (by cosmological measures), whose redshifts are smaller than 0.4, because SDSS did not include faint objects. Therefore, the early universe is not represented in the catalog at all. The Hectospec archive will allow the team to move a little bit further along the cosmological distance scale until the redshift of 0.7. If they add several thousand galaxies from the DEEP2 survey conducted with the 10-meter Keck telescope in early 2000s, they could get insights into objects at redshift up-to 1.0, when the universe was less than half of its present age.
Igor Chilingarian concludes, "We shall be able to see the global picture in about 10 years, when large surveys like DESI have collected 25 to 30 million galaxy spectra out to intermediate redshifts."
© Phys.org 2003-2017, Science X network.
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Guinéenews / Jeudi, 16 Fév 2017
Kindia : Le complexe de laboratoire du centre de recherche scientifique guinéo-russe inauguré
15 февраля в Киндии (Гвинея, Западная Африка) состоялось открытие Российско-Гвинейского научно-исследовательского центра эпидемиологии и профилактики инфекционных болезней. НИЦ будет исследовать особенности распространения опасных заболеваний (Эбола, желтая лихорадка, малярия и др.), разрабатывать и апробировать новые средства диагностики и профилактики инфекций.
Le laboratoire scientifique guinéo-russe de diagnostic des maladies infectieuses a été officiellement inauguré ce mercredi 15 février 2017 à Pastoria. Cette cérémonie inaugurale a connu la présence de quelques autorités guinéennes ainsi que celles de la fédération de Russie.
C'est le ministre d'Etat à la présidence chargé des investissements publics et privés, Dr Kassory Fofana, qui l'a présidé au nom du chef de l'Etat. "Le chef de l'Etat m'a chargé de vous rassurer que la Guinée et la Russie continueront ce partenariat. Sa volonté c'est de faire de ce partenariat le point d'appui pour asseoir les bases d'une coopération entre la Russie et le continent africain dont il a la charge de présider aux destinées aujourd'hui", explique le ministre d'Etat.
Ce geste de solidarité à l'endroit du peuple de Guinée est le fruit d'une très belle coopération entre la fédération de Russie et la république de Guinée, comme témoigne Anna Popova, ministre russe de la Protection des droits des consommateurs. "La construction de ce centre, sur instruction du président de la fédération du Russie, entre dans le cadre de la coopération entre nos deux pays, afin de renforcer la formation des spécialistes, des experts et scientifiques pour l'analyse et la détection des maladies infectieuses", affirme-t-elle.
Ce laboratoire est doté d'équipements modernes d'analyse et de détection de dernière génération, qui permettront à cet Institut de renforcer ses capacités de recherche et de lutter plus efficacement contre les épidémies en Guinée, indique Abdoulaye Yéro Baldé, ministre de l'Enseignement supérieur et de Recherche scientifique. "C'est un centre de recherche et d'analyse pour mieux anticiper les maladies à venir et lutter contre celles qui existent aujourd'hui, telles que Ebola, la fièvre lassa, le VIH/SIDA, le paludisme et autres", précise le ministre Yéro.
A préciser que c'est par la signature des accords de création du centre de recherche entre les deux pays ainsi que la remise d'un important lot de médicaments à la Direction de l'hôpital régional de Kindia que la cérémonie s'est achevée.
© 1997-2016 Guinéenews. Tous droits réservés.
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International Business Times / 02/28/17
How Stressed Are You? Cortisol Hormone In Hair Can Diagnose Stress, Depression Without Blood Test
- By Juliana Rose Pignataro
Нейробиологи из Института высшей нервной деятельности и нейрофизиологии РАН разработали способ определять уровень гормона стресса кортизола в организме человека по волосам.
A team of Russian scientists discovered an easier way to analyze stress levels and, in turn, determine the body's ability to deal with depression. By measuring the concentration of the hormone cortisol in individual strands of hair, researchers determined a person's ability to respond to stress, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Metabolic Brain Disease.
Cortisol levels are typically measured through blood tests, which are often inconvenient and can cause stress themselves. Biologists at the Russian Academy of Sciences measured the levels of cortisol in the hair of 20 women who suffered from severe depression and 20 women who did not show symptoms of depression. The women who suffered from depression showed far lower levels of cortisol than women who did not.
"Cortisol stimulates the recovery processes after stress. When a large excess of cortisol accumulates, it means the body had excessive stress load. But if the accumulated amount is substantially less than it should be, it means this important system is exhausted, and the "repair mechanism" after stress doesn't work at its ful," said Natalia Gulyaeva, deputy director and head of the Laboratory of Functional Biochemistry of the Nervous System in the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology and the leader of the research, told Sputnik News.
"Thus, the effect of particular stress on the health is even stronger."
The researchers noted that this method of measuring cortisol levels will be key to understanding how to treat and prevent depression.
"Our approach allows knowing for certain that the patient's reaction to stress is inadequate and that it's harder for him to cope with everyday stress than a healthy person," said Gulyaeva.
A single centimeter of hair can reflect a person's cortisol levels for the past month, and cortisol can be used to determine other factors and illnesses aside from stress and depression. Cortisol levels are associated with heart disease, chronic disease and chronic pain. Measuring cortisol amounts can also be used to determine exposure to drugs and environmental toxins, according to a 2007 study published by the National Institutes of Health.
© Copyright 2017 IBT Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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The New York Times / Feb. 28, 2017
Stalin Gets Results: The Soviet Push for Tech Dominance
- By Simon Sebag Montefiore
Рецензия на книгу Саймона Ингза "Сталин и ученые: история триумфа и трагедии. 1905-1953" (Stalin and the Scientists. A History of Triumph and Tragedy 1905-1953. By Simon Ings), вышедшей в издательстве Atlantic Monthly Press в феврале 2017.
"By the time Stalin died on 5 March 1953, the Soviet Union boasted the largest and best-funded scientific establishment in history," Simon Ings writes in "Stalin and the Scientists." "It was at once the glory and the laughingstock of the intellectual world."
The Bolsheviks viewed the ideology of Marxism as essentially scientific in its analysis of human progress, and science was always a vital part of their conception of the Soviet Union, which they trumpeted as the first state ever founded on "scientific" principles. Its rulers, particularly Lenin and Stalin, regarded themselves as manifestations of the "dictatorship of the proletariat," which gave them the authority to adjudicate on everything in society, including the arts and sciences. Lenin was an intellectual, at home as much in the London Library as in the Kremlin. Stalin was a published romantic poet and enthusiastic autodidact with a library of thousands of books, not only read but annotated. They had the confidence to interfere in every genre of art and every discipline of science. Stalin would soon be hailed as the all-knowing coryphaeus (leader of the chorus in Greek drama) of science.
Their drive to modernize Russia and restore it to great-power status, while struggling to feed millions in a country ruined by World War I and civil conflict, meant science was also a practical necessity. The fact that most scientists (and artists) were middle and upper class added the tension of class struggle. Lenin, as always, put it most succinctly: "Communism cannot be built without a fund of knowledge, technology, culture, but they are in the possession of bourgeois specialists. Among them the majority do not approve of the Soviet regime, but without them we cannot build Communism."
Ings, the author of "A Natural History of Seeing," skillfully relates the life stories of these "bourgeois" scientists. There was Ivan Pavlov, who observed, among many other things, that dogs secreted saliva when they expected food. There were the psychologists Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria, who conducted research on cognitive development. (Luria could be said to be the inventor of the lie detector.) At first, the scientists were surprised to find themselves endowed with new equipment and honor. But the picture darkened once Stalin began demanding astonishing jumps in creativity and production, which in turn made the scientists more important but more dangerous and therefore more policed and persecuted.
The heart of the book is the story of the Great Terror that struck the scientific establishment in the 1930s. Ings shows that scientists now depended for resources and promotion (but also for physical survival) on the power of patrons such as top leaders like Andrei Zhdanov, or the greatest patron of all, Stalin. He describes the rise of the maliciously cunning but childlike Trofim Lysenko, who notoriously became Stalin's favorite scientist (though they met only once or twice). As starvation spread in the wake of Stalin's collectivization, particularly in 1932-33, Lysenko, a semi-educated charlatan, attacked well-known geneticists who were trying to develop new hybrid crops that could solve the problem of low productivity, much of it caused by Stalin's brutal policies. Fueled by what Ings calls "a huckster's monomania," Lysenko claimed he could raise crop yields by his own process, called vernalization, in which artificially induced coldness could fool winter wheat to develop earlier in the spring. Later he applied his theories to cattle breeding. Many of Lysenko's views were either preposterous or simply irrelevant, and Ings includes a great scene when Western delegates to a conference in the Soviet Union burst into hysterics after hearing Lysenko's sophomoric theories on how sexual reproduction was a mixture of cells eating one another and belching. One of his colleagues, Nikolai Koltsov, joked: "He says that by feeding one can turn a cockroach into a horse."
Yet Lysenko's simple solutions and eager promises appealed to Stalin, who loved gardening and was obsessed with growing lemons in his greenhouses at his dacha near Moscow. When challenged by the esteemed geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, Lysenko responded viciously, denying the existence of genes. Vavilov rushed to appeal to Stalin, who received him but sneered, "You are the Vavilov who fiddles with flowers, leaves, grafts and other botanical nonsense instead of helping agriculture, as is done by Academician Lysenko." Vavilov was arrested in 1940. The world-famous scientist died in prison in 1943.
But Lysenko's charlatanism was well known even among Stalin's courtiers. After the war, Stalin's heir apparent, Zhdanov, challenged Lysenko, who continued to be backed by a furious Stalin. He had a variety of reasons: asserting his total supremacy in his years of decline; reinforcing absolute party control over society; promoting what he saw as the practical over the theoretical; supporting a scientific proletarian against bourgeois experts. There was also the fact of his demented arteriosclerotic megalomania.
The end of the war saw the challenge of the American nuclear bomb, which shocked Stalin. He ordered his diabolical henchman Lavrenti Beria to develop a Soviet bomb - fast. Beria had already created special laboratory prisons - sharashki - where jailed scientists worked in menacing comfort (brilliantly portrayed by Solzhenitsyn in "The First Circle," his best novel by far) and often produced stellar results. The physicist Leon Theremin, rescued from the gold mines of Kolyma to work in one of Beria's sharashki, invented listening devices soon used to spy on the British and Americans in Moscow, for which he was awarded the Stalin Prize: Such were the twists of fortune for Stalin's scientists. Acclaimed physicists like Peter Kapitsa, Yulii Khariton and Igor Kurchatov were alternately bullied and spoiled by Stalin and Beria. Ings quotes Kapitsa's magnificently aristocratic letters to Stalin complaining "it is time for comrades like Comrade Beria to begin to learn respect for scientists." Beria later tried to take revenge. "I will remove him for you," Stalin replied, "but don't you touch him." There in a nutshell was the delicate relationship between the cruelest of tyrants and his scientists - and in 1949, Stalin got his nuclear weapons.
Ings capably recounts how Soviet science became a laughingstock and often a human tragedy, but he doesn't explain how Stalinist technology produced colossal successes, too, from the creation of Tupolev and MiG planes to the best designed tank in the world, the T-34. And while Ings's research is impressive and his exposition of the science is lucid, the key stories of Lysenko and the nuclear project are well known and better covered elsewhere, as in David Holloway's "Stalin and the Bomb."
What's more, Ings's history contains many mistakes starting with the birthday of Stalin himself: There is a choice of two. Officially it was Dec. 21, 1879 (New Style). In reality, Stalin was born on Dec. 6, 1878 (Old Style), or Dec. 18, 1878 (New Style). This book muddles both and gives the birthday as Dec. 18, 1879. In 1881, Alexander II was assassinated, but it is wrong to say his route "never varied." He alternated routes, and that was why the terrorists had two plans. The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks didn't miss the 1905 revolution; they launched an armed uprising that had to be crushed by the army. Dzerzhinsky remained head of the secret police until his death in 1926, not giving it up when he became head of the Supreme Council of the National Economy. In 1940, Finland was not "in Russian hands," but it did sue for peace. And so on.
Over all, however, Ings is an entertaining storyteller who often captures the essence of things - Stalin was indeed "the last in a long line of European philosopher kings." Filled with priceless nuggets and a cast of frauds, crackpots and tyrants, this is a lively and interesting book, and utterly relevant today when the Trump administration is challenging the scientific establishment on climate change. We in the West have long laughed at the "Coryphaeus of Science," but has the United States now elected its own?
© 2017 The New York Times Company.
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