Demand for rubber ‘threatens forests’

According to a report, protected forests in Southeast Asia are being threatened due to increasing worldwide demand for rubber tyres.
As swathes of tropical forests make way for rubber plantations, UK researchers say animal life, which is already, endangered, such as birds, bats and primates are at risk. According to Conservation Letters, it is estimated that by 2024, up to 8.5 million hectares of new rubber plantations will have to be created to meet demand. With the destruction of habitats, breeding grounds and food supplies, the impact on wildlife is potentially catastrophic.

Should we care?

The already endangered white-shouldered ibis, yellow-cheeked crested gibbon and clouded leopard are species, particularly under threat, report the team led by Eleanor Warren-Thomas, from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Can we do anything?

Dr Matthew Struebig, from the University of Kent, declared: “There’s a lot we can do …to make rubber production more wildlife-friendly.” She suggested incentives like agro-forestry – mixing rubber with other trees – to retaining patches of natural vegetation along rivers or in small conservation areas, as in organic farming in Europe. She went on to say: “The tyre industry consumes 70% of all natural rubber grown, and rising demand for vehicle and aeroplane tyres is behind the recent expansion of plantations. But the impact of this is a loss of tropical biodiversity.” 8.5 million hectares is roughly the size of Austria. Surely there’s a legitimate biodiversity concern here? Conservationists believe so. They are concerned that switching use of land to rubber cultivation can harm soil, water and biodiversity. As rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop in the Southeast Asia mainland, shouldn’t we take them seriously and halt this intrusion now? The first review of the effects on biodiversity and endangered species of this forest destruction could be compared to the problem that arose with palm oil; it is now linked to the growing tyre market.

The Philippines : The study reported that numbers of bird, bat and beetle species can decline by up to 75% in forests that have been converted to rubber.

Is developing more efficient sustainability initiatives the solution?

The researchers, from UEA and the University of Sheffield, are asking tyre manufacturers to support certification scheme initiatives.

This must surely be key to protecting our forests and wildlife, whilst fulfilling demand, by creating a standard endorsed by the public, and scientists, to manage rubber crops in a more environmentally friendly way?

Integrity in US media

Carl Sagan once said “The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media”, even going on to say it presented: “a kind of celebration of ignorance”.

The problem is that much of what is presented in the mainstream US media today is short, bright and loud, so is it designed more to attract attention than to inform?

The beginning of the ‘dumbing down’ process started with celeb news. Flash cars, beautiful women and rich men make this type of news very viewer friendly, if not content heavy. The result is the rest of the news then looks rather drab and dull in comparison. This in turn has led to the addition of ‘interesting’ little details and commentaries slipped in to current affairs.

A good example of this is was in late 2013. Fox psychiatrist Dr Keith Ablow came on air and said that President Obama’s difficult early life had “led him to feel victimized, hurt and injured” and went on to say “There’s a real victim mentality here, and it really explains the president’s whole mentality and many of his policies.” Whilst his early life no doubt had an impact on the man he is today, this was a piece of supposition and sensationalist guesswork.

This sense of dramatisation of the news increases the need for stories to have baddies, drama and embellishment (like a Hollywood film), even within stories that are already quite exciting to begin with.

When reporting the capture of Joaquin Guzman (Mexican drug lord) in 2014, the Washington Post decided to add that instead of being caught in the mountains with his wife, he was in fact with his secretary. They then said: “An earlier version of this story erroneously said that Joaquin Guzman was found in bed with his secretary. He was found with his wife. This version has been corrected”.

So with the viewer’s attention becoming so hard to grab, it seems the integrity takes a back seat while drama drives the content. So is media is becoming less and less fact based, and more opinion, guesswork and supposition?

It’s not all bad of course: many media outlets are stricter with their content and it is more informative than dramatic.

The real question is, how long will these outlets last in the face of greater ratings for a Kardashian wedding than a civil war?

Stem cell breakthrough for Parkinson’s disease

Swedish scientists from Lund University have found that stem cell treatment can be used to heal the damage in the brain caused by Parkinson’s disease. The disease, which affects body control and movement, is caused by loss of nerve cells which control the chemical dopamine – essential for these cognitive functions. Parkinson’s UK have come out to say that the research is at a very early stage, but the news is a welcome breakthrough for advocates of stem cell research.

Ethical dilemma
One of the reasons that stem cell research is only now becoming a viable research technique is the ethical issues which have surrounded it for so many years. Up until 2007, stem cell research used tissue from aborted embryos to obtain material to study. This obviously posed an ethical dilemma as it involved obtaining aborted foetuses for scientific use, a process which caused significant outrage. Thankfully, in the last 7 years stem cell researchers have started using a new technique called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS). This method allows scientists to obtain the cells they need, without the need for an aborted embryo, placating many critics.

Playing God
The other issues that surround stem cell research surround all types of health research: should we be playing God? What will the information be used for? Divisive as it is, research into terminal diseases has helped save thousands of people and we probably can’t afford to ignore the opportunities that stem cells offer.

The second concern is that in the future scientists will use the aforementioned iPS technique to create human clones, and at the rate research is progressing this concern could become reality. Can we trust scientists to act morally? Would cloning necessarily be a bad thing?

Present versus future
These questions are difficult to answer, since they concern something that is not yet possible. However, it must be said that because stem cell research has the potential to save thousands of lives scientists have a duty to continue. This new Parkinson’s breakthrough is only the beginning and it is hard to argue against a form of research which can be so medically productive. When it does happen, we will have to ask ourselves if we can ethically justify the scientific creation of human life. The issue of clones is something that will need to be confronted when the time comes, but for the moment it is not the primary function of stem cell research.

Facebook’s psychological study: an ethical dilemma

In January 2012 the social media giant Facebook undertook what can only be called a research experiment on 700,000 of its users. The company decided to strategically skew what these users could see when they logged into their personal profiles. Half of these individuals were confronted by content which had been proven to have happy connotations, while the other half were met with words which were known to be sadder than average. Was it really ethical to analyse this large group of unsuspecting users? Facebook have argued that they were merely testing their product, and were not undertaking research, but there has been significant outrage over the project.

Social Media
One of the biggest problems with social media is the perceived lack of privacy which happens when you discuss your private life online. It seems bizarre that even with this being an issue regularly discussed, Facebook should decide to conduct such an experiment on unwitting users. Could it be that Facebook actually thought what they were doing was actually morally acceptable?

Research protocol
In the past few weeks an American professor has argued that the experiment actually violated a law in the state of Maryland that requires human subjects to give consent when participating in a study. Facebook have retorted by saying that what they did was not actually research. There seems to be some regret at making a poor business decision, but there is no admission of ethical culpability.

Objectively, it is clear to see that this sort of action must be considered experimental. Manipulating an individual’s emotions must be considered on a par with physical research. What is even more concerning is the fact that there would have been children and adolescents within the sample, unknowing that what they were seeing was being controlled in a big brother-esque manner by adults who have no right to guide them. Facebook are in a position of great power, with a global audience of over 500 million people. It is of utmost importance that they act responsibly when dealing with their customers.

What has to be realised is that Facebook are a company that want to constantly grow and improve their product. Facebook is so ingrained in our daily lives that inevitably when they change things people will be affected. Should we be looking for more global regulations to protect us from this manipulation? How can we do that? There is no straight answer to either question but the balance needs to be right. People deserve to have their privacy respected by Facebook, while the company itself has the right to expand. The question is, how can we do both?