Curious Bends – math puzzle winner, worm sperms, banning nuclear weapons and more

1. Asking for a ban on nuclear weapons is futile, but this first step might help

There are many who want nuclear weapons banned, but they tend to be the countries who don’t have them. The countries that have nuclear weapons are disproportionately stronger, both economically and militarily, than the rest. This power imbalance creates a situation where calls for a nuclear weapons ban falls on deaf ears. One way out is to sign a convention barring first-use. (5 min read)

2. American Indian mathematician wins prize for solving 50-year-old math puzzle

Nikhil Srivastava, now at Microsoft Research India, has been named a joint winner of the prestigious George Polya Prize for finding the proof of what is known as the Kadison-Singer conjecture, first proposed by Richard Kadison and Isadore Singer in 1959. It pertains to the mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics, and asks if unique information can be extrapolated from a scenario in which not all features can be observed or measured. Srivastava and two others found an answer about a year ago. (2 min read)

3. Worm sperm may have helped uncover the mechanism underlying the formation of new species

“Different species are usually unsuccessful at interbreeding; if they do, the hybrid offspring is usually sterile. In this way, species are kept separate and the diversity of life is maintained. In a study published in PLOS Biology this week, scientists observed that when female worms belonging to the Caenorhabditis genus mate outside their species, they end up with reduced lifespans and fewer offspring than usual. While exploring the possible reasons, they may have uncovered a mechanism underlying the formation of new species.” (2 min read)

+ The author of this piece, Nandita Jayaraj, is a journalist with The Hindu.

4. ‘Money is not a problem in Indian science,’ researchers say. This proves them wrong.

Not long ago, senior researchers were complaining that the real problem in Indian science is not money but a lack of leadership. But now, nearly 3,000 junior researchers at India’s premier research institutes are protesting because of lack of funding and delays in payments. There is a disconnect between how science is done at these two levels and it exposes new cracks in the system. (3 min read)

​5. Informal healthcare providers (IPs) outnumber doctors in rural India, but that’s not bad

“IPs are on the margins of formalised medicine, but over the years they have established important niches, particularly in rural areas. They work within well-developed institutional arrangements, which have evolved in different directions in different contexts. This study dispels the myth that IPs are solo ‘quacks’ with only limited links to their community and to local institutions. It also underlines the likelihood that IPs will continue to play a role for quite a long time irrespective of increasing incomes and infrastructural development.” (24 min read)

Chart of the week

An analysis of all rape cases in Delhi registered in 2013 paints a more complex picture of the problem, according to The Hindu. For instance, an interesting fact is that nearly half of some 600 cases filed involved girls’ parents accusing the boy of rape because the young couple eloped. Another is that the conviction rate now is about the same (23%) as the national average was in 2010 (26%).



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