Welcome to Curious Bends

A few years ago, I formed a group of science enthusiasts. Our goal was to fix the problem of poor science communication in India. There only existed a handful of science publications and fewer among them did the work that was so critical to a democracy with the potential that India has. We discussed many ideas but couldn’t implement them.

After all these years, science communication in India hasn’t changed much. But the problem kept nagging me all along. So now, with fellow nerd Vasudevan Mukunth, I’ve started a weekly newsletter to address that problem in a small way. The aim of the weekly newsletter would be to become a place where you can come to find interesting stories from global publications covering science, technology and data that have their focus not on the West.

Here is this week’s edition (our second). If you enjoy it, you and your friends can subscribe here.

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1. Warheads at supersonic speeds… on the ground
India’s defence research organisation has installed five 4-km long rails at a research lab in Chandigarh for propelling missile warheads at supersonic speeds. Could this be useful for India’s space programmes, too? The timing is suggestive. In July this year, the space agency is slated to launch an unmanned “Orbital Vehicle” that is at the heart of India’s human spaceflight program. The rails can be used to simulate re-entry of crew capsules. (3 min read)

2. In the unfortunate event that New Delhi is nuked…
On the Doomsday Clock, which is a countdown to global catastrophe, the world has come 12 minutes closer to midnight since 1991. Recently, Nitin Gadkari, now a minister in the new Indian government, was exchanging nuclear threats with a Pakistani analyst on TV. This spurred a journalist to look at the government’s emergency plans to deal with a nuclear fallout. Hint to civilians: “To begin with, nothing that can be dug without the help of E. Sreedharan—the Metro Man—is likely to be deep enough.” (8 min read)

3. Are tiger poachers really trying to hack radio-collar data in India’s sanctuaries?
The more we resort to technology to protect something, the more its failings become liable for abuse—except when it’s animal poaching. There was a scare about a Pune techie trying to hack into data transmitted by radio-collars around some tigers. It turned out to be false, but not before conservationists reasoned that poachers relied on simpler, ground-based techniques to trap animals, and that’s why they get away. (4 min read)

4. 101 suicides in two months: is Marathwada the new Vidarbha?
Freak hailstorms in March flattened orchard crops in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region. In the two months since, 101 suicides have been reported. The reason? Faulty agriculture and irrigation policies have driven farmers to orchard farming that is submissive to failing, because of the time and capital investment it requires. (5 min read)

5. Call for action to prevent millions of “invisible” deaths
More than 780,000 babies less than 28 days old die every year in India. The cost of preventing these deaths is a meagre $1.15 (₹ 68) per person. Why then aren’t these deaths prevented? Because these are “invisible deaths”. Parents don’t seek to register their child’s birth or death because they don’t think it can make a difference. This silence perpetuates the myth that newborn deaths and stillbirths are inevitable. (6 min read)

6. Video: Putting hardy small millets back on the menu
Decline in food diversity is driving malnutrition around the world, and the hardy millet is one casualty. This cereal crop can be cultivated in a variety of ecosystems, from coastal areas in South India to mountainous terrain in the Himalayas, but it has become a niche crop. A Canadian agency wants to redress this imbalance in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and to put women farmers in the centre of its approach. (5 min watch)

Chart of the week

If you divide China into two, one half will have 94% of its population (nearly 20% of world’s population). This geographic divide hasn’t changed in last 80 years despite the population tripling. In 1935, a Chinese geographer noticed the divide and drew an imaginary line, called Heihe–Tengchong Line, that no one seems have crossed over to settle. Yet, what this map hides is the fact that China has recently seen the largest migration in human history: 160 million people have moved from rural areas to urban ones in the last 30 years, no doubt within Eastern China.

Please email curiousbends@gmail.com with suggestions or feedback. We’d love to hear from you. For more such stories, find curators Vasudevan Mukunth and Akshat Rathi on Twitter. Enjoy the week!

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