The truth is out there: 26/09/2009

A weekly look at the world
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The Independent Online

This week marked the 143rd anniversary of sci-fi writer HG Wells' birth. To celebrate, cast an eye over some of his predictions. Though time machines may still be the stuff of fantasy he accurately predicted the advent of heat rays, a form of mobile phone, biological warfare (of sorts), genetic engineering and the automatic door.

*Ever wondered what is in your medical record? Simply look on Facebook. A survey published by New Scientist found 13 per cent of US medical schools reported their students have leaked confidential information about patients via blogs or social networking sites. Though Americans may count themselves lucky when they hear news reported this week that UK hospital patients are six per cent more likely to die in August due to the influx of junior doctors.

*Art criticism can be fowl work after an experiment showed pigeons can identify good and bad art. The birds, reports Scientific America, were offered grain for correctly pecking the good work from the bad using a computer. After a bit of training, they learnt enough to identify pictures that accurately, or otherwise, resembled cats, humans, cars and flowers.

*The favourite jibe of the righteous that atheism is just too depressing may, in fact, be true. A team from Rush University Medical Centre found that a belief in God can speed up treatment for adults with clinical depression. The study, published in the journal of clinical psychology, showed believers were less likely to get the blues by analysing the recovery periods of adults with depression from differing belief systems.

*The world's longest-running soap opera came to an end last week, after 72 years on air. Guiding Light followed the lives of four American families. The series started life as a radio show in 1937 before graduating to CBS in 1952. It still commanded an audience of 2.2 million in its final series, though that is less than a third of its heyday.

*A study for Science magazine tracked the migration of European eels as they embarked on their 5,000-metre migration to the Sargasso Sea. Facing the threat of extinction, not least because of their popularity with sushi eaters, the eels shocked researchers with their lack of speed. Moving at between 5 and 25 kilometres a day, these slow coaches of the sea seemed well short of the 35 kilometres a day thought to have been required for them to reach their destination in time for spring spawning.

*Feathers are much older than had been thought until very recently. The discovery of exceptionally well preserved dinosaur fossils in north-eastern China display the earliest known feathers on creatures that are all more than 150 million years old, according to a report in Nature. Archaeopteryx, a bird which flew over Germany, had previously been the oldest owner of feathers. Sometimes known by its German name, Urvogel, meaning "original bird" or "first bird", Archaeopteryx was thought to be around 145 million years old.