Dec 30, 2022


Pope warns Vatican staff an ‘elegant demon’ lurks among them

Pope Francis warned Vatican bureaucrats on Thursday to beware the devil that lurks among them, saying it is an “elegant demon” that works in people who have a rigid, holier-than-thou way of living the Catholic faith.

Francis used his annual Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia to again put the cardinals, bishops and priests who work in the Holy See on notice that they are by no means beyond reproach and are, in fact, particularly vulnerable to evil.

Francis told them that by living in the heart of the Catholic Church, “we could easily fall into the temptation of thinking we are safe, better than others, no longer in need of conversion.”

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Beyond that, Francis appeared to also want to take broader aim at arch-conservatives and traditionalists who have become the pope’s biggest critics. Francis blasted their way of living the faith, insisting that being Catholic doesn’t mean following a never-changing set of dicta but is rather a “process of understanding Christ’s message that never ends, but constantly challenges us.”

Vatican dismisses Trump-supporting, anti-abortion leader from priesthood

Father Frank Pavone, a leader of the U.S. anti-abortion movement and a strong supporter of former president Donald Trump, has been dismissed from the Catholic priesthood for "blasphemous" social media posts and disobedience to bishops.

The Vatican defrocked Pavone in November, according to a letter sent to U.S. bishops from its ambassador to Washington. The letter, seen by Reuters, says Pavone will not be allowed to appeal.

In the 2016 presidential campaign he released a video of an aborted foetus on an altar and urged Catholics not to vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who later lost to Trump.

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Pavone, 63, a New Yorker, has had a scratchy relationship with many of his bishop superiors during his clerical career, often over actions they deemed too political.

After Trump lost to Joe Biden in 2020, Pavone was among Trump supporters who questioned the validity of the elections.

Denying the past? Ohio History Connection under scrutiny for banning Graham Hancock from Serpent Mound

The Ohio History Connection (OHC) is being called out from across the planet after it banned internationally best-selling author and journalist Graham Hancock from filming his docuseries Ancient Apocalypse at Serpent Mound in Peebles, Ohio.

Denying Hancock from one of the world’s most mysterious prehistoric effigy mounds occurred in the spring of 2021, but recently came to light after Hancock – author of the bestselling 2019 book “America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization” – posted OHC’s email telling him and his film crew they did not have permission to access the high plateau where the 1,348-foot Serpent rests.

Hancock’s theory that an advanced civilization some 12,000-plus years ago survived a dual cataclysm of a comet strike followed by a great flood and passed along its knowledge of agriculture and mathematics to survivors is controversial and scoffed at by mainstream archeologists who call it “pseudo archaeology” or “fringe history”.

But a large number of today’s civilization wants, at the very least, to listen, process and debate what the British author has to say. Hancock’s books have sold tens-of-millions of copies and the 8-part Ancient Apocalypse, released in November, is a worldwide hit, peaking into Netflix’s global top 10 and logging over 24-million hours watched in its first week.

Researchers find 168 more ancient images at Peru's Nazca Lines

Archaeologists have found 168 geoglyphs in and around the Peruvian city of Nazca, adding to the extensive, centuries-old collection of ancient and enigmatic images that make up the Nazca Lines.

The new findings add to the 190 known geoglyphs at the UNESCO World Heritage site, located along the southern coast of Peru. The markings, discovered by researchers at Japan's Yamagata University in collaboration with Peruvian archaeologist Jorge Olano, are thought to date to between 100 B.C. and A.D. 300.

The depictions include humans, birds, killer whales, cats and snakes. The first geoglyphs, largely other images of animals or linear designs, were drawn into the ground thousands of years ago. Inhabitants removed black stones from the ground's surface to expose the underlying white sandy surface to create their designs.

"They are the most outstanding group of geoglyphs anywhere in the world and are unmatched in its extent, magnitude, quantity, size, diversity and ancient tradition to any similar work in the world," according to UNESCO. The collection stretches across an area of about 280 square miles.

Our human ancestors learned to sail half a million years ago, study suggests

Imagine ancient hominids sailing the Mediterranean hundreds of thousands of years before humans (Homo sapiens) appeared. The idea might sound bizarre: we think of boats as a human transportation technology, something that, like the wheel, our primitive ancestors developed at the dawn of civilization. So the revelation that a precursor to humans — meaning, a species of closely-related hominids that predate us — may have invented the boat and even sailed the Mediterranean long before us is a shocking proposition.

Yet that is exactly what new research suggests: hominids crossed the Mediterranean Sea much earlier than previously thought — before even Homo sapiens first appeared — which means these ancient humans must have learned how to sail nearly half a million years ago. The study prompts a shocking re-evaluation of an activity and a technology that seemed distinctly human.

The first humans and our many hominid cousins like Neanderthals originated in Africa, but it wasn't long before we wandered off to other continents. And this happened not just once, but multiple times, with some genetic evidence suggesting some subsets of humans even later returned to Africa.

Getting the timeline right on some of these details is a major field of study because it helps shape our understanding of human evolution. New research in the journal Quaternary International may shift the historical record significantly for when hominids, a group that includes primates including humans and our close relatives, first started sailing the sea north of Africa.

Rare evidence that dinosaurs feasted on mammals uncovered

Sometime during the Cretaceous Period, 120 million years ago, a dinosaur wolfed down its last meal — a small mammal the size of a mouse. And it’s still there.

A researcher with a sharp eye spotted the mammal’s foot preserved inside the guts of a fossilized Microraptor zhaoianus, a feathered therapod less than a meter (3 feet) long.

“At first, I couldn’t believe it. There was a tiny rodent-like mammal foot about a centimeter (0.4 inch) long perfectly preserved inside a Microraptor skeleton,” said Hans Larsson, a professor of biology at McGill University’s Redpath Museum in Montreal. Larsson came across the fossil while visiting museum collections in China.

“These finds are the only solid evidence we have about the food consumption of these long extinct animals — and they are exceptionally rare,” Larsson said in a news release.

UBC scientists discover entirely new branch on the tree of life — and they are likely to ‘nibble’

Scientists have recently discovered a whole new branch on the evolutionary tree of life which, they say, sheds light on the global biodiversity crisis.

The researchers, mostly from the University of British Columbia, discovered rare, single-celled predators living in marine environments around the world that are genetically distinct from any other living being on earth.

Their findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, placed the microbes in a new supergroup of organisms they named “Provora.” You can think of them as the “lions of the microbial world,” said Patrick Keeling, a senior author of the study and a professor researching evolutionary microbiology at UBC.

“They’re numerically very rare. For every lion, there’s thousands of animals that aren’t lions,” Keeling told the Star. This was why we never detected them until now, despite their presence everywhere, he said — there were too few of them to stand out.

To peer into Earth's deep time, meet a hardy mineral known as the Time Lord

The oldest known Earth stuff that remains on the surface of our planet is a mineral that's been called the "Time Lord" because it's so incredibly good at keeping geologic time.

The mineral is zircon, and scientists have found bits of it that formed 4.37 billion years ago, not too long after the proto-Earth's epic collision with a Mars-sized object that spawned our moon.

Tiny crystals of zircon can look like sand, or useless crud. But don't be fooled. With a radioactive tick-tock that marks the passing of billions of years, these small but mighty minerals offer us a peek into the Earth's early development.

"They are really the best markers of Earth's time, or the history of the Earth," says Michael Ackerson, a geologist with the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Nuclear Fusion Promises “Near-Limitless Energy”—Someday

Researchers have reportedly made a breakthrough in the quest to unlock a “near-limitless, safe, clean” source of energy: They got more energy out of a nuclear fusion reaction than they put in.

Nuclear fusion involves smashing together light elements such as hydrogen to form heavier elements, releasing a huge burst of energy in the process. The approach, which gives rise to the heat and light of the sun and other stars, has been hailed as having huge potential as a sustainable, low-carbon energy source.

However, since nuclear fusion research began in the 1950s, researchers have been unable to a demonstrate a positive energy gain, a condition known as ignition. That was, it seems, until now.

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But experts have stressed that while the results would be an important proof of principle, the technology is a long way from being a mainstay of the energy landscape. To start with, 0.4 MJ is about 0.1 kilowatt-hour (kWh)—about enough energy to boil a kettle.

Chatbot's doomsday scenario for truth

The world's response to the oracular artificial intelligence program called ChatGPT started with chuckles but has quickly moved on to shivers. What's happening: Trained on vast troves of online text, OpenAI's chatbot remixes those words into often-persuasive imitations of human expression and even style.

Yes, but: A growing chorus of experts believes it's too good at passing for human. Its capacity for generating endless quantities of authentic-seeming text, critics fear, will trigger a trust meltdown.

Why it matters: ChatGPT's ability to blur the line between human and machine authorship could wreak overnight havoc with norms across many disciplines, as people hand over the hard work of composing their thoughts to AI tools.

Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are making bets on brain interface company Synchron as Elon Musk’s Neuralink faces controversy and a federal investigation

On Thursday, Synchron announced the completion of a $75 million funding round led by ARCH Venture Partners. Among the investors are Bezos Expeditions and Gates Frontier, which handle personal investments for Amazon founder Bezos and Microsoft co-founder Gates, respectively.

Synchron is focused on restoring some helpful capabilities to paralyzed patients, who can use its Synchron Switch, a brain computer interface (BCI), to move a computer cursor on a screen with just their thoughts. With a minimally-invasive procedure, the BCI is implanted in the blood vessel on the surface of the motor cortex of the brain via the jugular vein. Other companies, including Neuralink, use more invasive techniques that involve going through the skull.

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At Neuralink, things are going less smoothly. The company is under federal investigation for potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act following staff backlash over what they say is rushed testing that caused unnecessary suffering and deaths, Reuters reported last week. Musk has reportedly told Neuralink staff to imagine they have bombs strapped to their heads in an effort to accelerate the startup’s progress, but employees have advocated for more deliberate, traditional testing methods.

This week, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a key medical ethics advocacy group, requested the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hold Neuralink accountable for violating protocols on biological tests, and disqualify the data obtained from animal testing. It also asked the agency to ban additional animal tests by Neuralink. FDA sanctions could force the company to start over with the rigorous approval process.

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