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World’s oldest forts upend idea that farming alone led to complex societies

In remote Siberia, hunter-gatherers built complex defenses 8000 years ago.

People who lived in central Siberia thousands of years ago enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle despite the area’s cold winters. They fished abundant pike and salmonids from the Amnya River and hunted migrating elk and reindeer with bone and stonetipped spears. To preserve their rich stores of fish oil and meat, they created elaborately decorated pottery. And they built the world’s first known fortresses, perhaps to keep out aggressive neighbors.

With room inside for dozens of people and dwellings sunk almost 2 meters deep for warmth in Siberian winters, the fortresses were ringed by earthen walls several meters high and topped with wooden palisades. At some point, they were consumed by flame, a possible sign of early battles. And at least one set of structures was built startlingly early: 8000 years ago, 2000 years before the mighty walls of Uruk and Babylon in the Middle East and thousands of years before agriculture reached some parts of Europe and Asia, according to a study to be reported in Antiquity on 1 December.

A centuries-long cold spell that started about 8200 years ago may have made such rich sites particularly desirable. At Amnya and other fortified settlements, burned layers show that pit houses and palisades were periodically consumed by flames, and archaeologists found arrowheads in the Amnya’s outer ditch—possible signs of violent conflict. “These things we think about now, like property ownership and social inequality—people have been thinking about since we became human,” Colin Grier of Washington State University says.

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Science magazine


3 climate impacts the U.S. will see if warming goes beyond 1.5 degrees

As world leaders gather at COP28, the annual climate change negotiations held in Dubai this year, one number will be front and center: 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s the amount countries have agreed to limit warming to by the end of the century.

Currently, the world is on track for just under 3 degrees Celsius of warming (more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. While a few degrees of difference may seem small, climate research shows that every tenth of a degree can have a profound effect when it comes to the dangers posed by extreme weather.

“We’re not destined for some catastrophic climate,” says Deepti Singh, who is an assistant professor at Washington State University. “We know that we can have a future that is more equitable and less volatile if we limit the warming through our actions today.”

1. At 1.5 degrees of warming worldwide, the U.S. will heat up even faster
When scientists use numbers like 1.5 degrees Celsius to measure climate change, it represents an average of all the annual temperatures worldwide. That average masks the fact that some parts of the planet are heating up faster than others.

“The U.S. has already warmed at a rate that’s higher than the global average,” says Singh. “We’re warming at a rate that’s 60% higher than that.”

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Listen to the NPR Morning Edition story (with transcript).

Loosening restrictions on marijuana may not lead to boon cannabis advocates seek

Federal authorities are weighing whether to stop classifying marijuana among the riskiest drugs, a move that cannabis advocates have long hoped would result in more research on its health effects, businesses having an easier time selling it and fewer people going to jail.

But experts warn the August recommendation by the Department of Health and Human Services to strip marijuana’s designation as a Schedule I drug may not fulfill those hopes.

All controlled substances come with restrictions on research, but marijuana and other Schedule I substances have the toughest requirements. Experts say it’s imperative to conduct more research on marijuana to understand its benefits and risks as legal markets flourish and consumer use soars.

To gain access to pot, researchers need to register with the DEA under rules that would not apply if they studied Schedule II substances like cocaine and fentanyl.

Some researchers have found ways to get around these rules, but their studies have limitations.

For example, Washington State University researchers studying the cognitive effects of cannabis had to use Zoom to observe participants who just used marijuana they bought at dispensaries. The ideal study would involve researchers providing high-potency cannabis from dispensaries, including a placebo to a control group, and participants coming to a lab to provide blood samples and record physiological data points such as heart rate variability and cortisol levels that cannot be measured over Zoom.

The university risks losing federal funding if researchers administer cannabis themselves even though marijuana is legal in Washington, said Carrie Cuttler, an associate professor of psychology who directs The Health & Cognition (THC) Lab at Washington State.

“It’s absurd, absolutely absurd,” she said, “to treat cannabis as pretty much the most dangerous narcotic available in the world.”

Despite these restrictions, there is still plenty of research done on marijuana without ever handling the physical drug.

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The Washington Post
Yahoo! News



National Climate Report: 5 Trends for the Pacific Northwest

Following the release of the federal National Climate Assessment last week, experts in Washington state say that although the window for countering the negative impacts of climate change is narrowing, there’s still time.

The trend is clear: Earth is warming because of our longstanding reliance on fossil fuels.

As our cars, buildings, refineries, large industries and power plants burn fossil fuels, emitting harmful and noxious greenhouse gasses, the planet will continue to warm, according to the federal government’s latest National Climate Assessment, published last week. Like the rest of the world, the Northwest is at risk. Washington, Oregon and Idaho are home to some 14 million people and 43 Native American tribes. The region is already experiencing climate change and more will come in the decades ahead, the state’s climatologist and one of the report’s authors told The Seattle Times.

States like Washington are scrambling to cut greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and painlessly as possible, with mixed degrees of success and local opposition. Others resist the change or even lay the groundwork for the continued reliance on the fossil fuels that have brought us to this point.

The faster the U.S. and the rest of the world cuts emissions, the quicker the risks diminish, the report says. The immediate benefit — and the benefit to future generations — will “far outweigh” the costs those changes would impose.

We still have time to shape our future, for better or for worse.

“Although the window is narrowing, it’s still open,” said Deepti Singh, a climate scientist with Washington State University and one of the assessment’s many authors.

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Seattle Times

Big data play a huge role in US presidential elections. Do they have the same impact in Australia?

Travis Ridout is a political scientist who studies political advertising in the United States, and he spent the first six months of 2023 in Australia as a Fulbright scholar. He interviewed campaign staff and political consultants about their use of various campaign techniques in state and federal elections.

A key reason Barack Obama won the 2012 US presidential election was his campaign’s use of “big data” to target specific voters. His team created multiple versions of ads aimed at niche audiences, taking care to test every message. Naturally, some have worried about the potential power of these data-driven campaign techniques to manipulate voters. But have these methods taken over election campaigns in Australia?

In short, not really. Australian campaigns typically rely on much less data-intensive techniques due to a lack of resources, doubts about the data, and ethical and philosophical concerns about the approach.

One reason is that [Australian] campaigns do not have unlimited money and staff resources. At the end of the day, hiring a data scientist or creative staff to design ads for multiple audiences is a luxury most campaigns cannot afford. In contrast, more than US$6.6 billion (A$10.2 billion) was spent on the 2020 presidential election.

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The Conversation