The truth is out there: 09/01/2010

A weekly look at the world

*The year has started on a positive note for gay rights campaigners, according to Harper's magazine. South America witnessed its first gay wedding in Argentina; New Hampshire legalised same-sex marriage, and the Senate confirmed its first openly gay US marshal. But elsewhere things are less progressive as Malawi arrested two men for getting engaged.

*The Chinese government has paid 78,000 yuan (£7,167) to 59 people who reported pornographic websites, reported. Government officials received 257,000 tip-offs after announcing a reward scheme for porn patrollers a month ago. Altogether, 61,982 pornographic websites were reported between 4 December and 4 January.

*The oldest known survivor of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 has died of old age. Jeanette Scola Trapani died at home aged 107, said the San Francisco Chronicle. The news broke in the same week that scientists revealed the death toll from natural disasters in 2009 was 10,000 – down from 75,000 in 2008.

*The Philippines, Mexico, Somalia and Russia were the most deadly for journalists last year, the International News Safety Institute has reported. A total of 132 journalists and support staff died or were killed while working – 98 of them because of their reporting activities. The figure is up from 109 in 2008 and was swollen by 31 reporters killed in a politically motivated massacre in the Philippines in November.

* has compiled a list of the top 10 sci-fi weapons that actually exist, highlighting how different the modern battlefield could soon look. It includes an LED display that induces nausea, and a ray that makes the skin feel it is burning without causing any actual damage.

*Part of people's mistrust of migrants could stem from their own cognitive lethargy, according to new research. Psychologists in Australia found people prefer groups they find easy to process in the same way they prefer investing in companies with easy names to pronounce and fear chemicals with complicated labels, said the British Psychological Society Research Digest.

*The effect of social pressure on philanthropy has been cunningly quantified by an American economist. John List distributed flyers to homes with the date and time that someone seeking a charitable donation would visit, thereby giving potential donors the opportunity to be out or simply ignore the call. The study, championed by the Freakonomics blog, found that the flyer reduced the share of houses opening the door by 10 to 25 per cent.

*Alaskan marine mammals are feasting on ancient carbon from a melting glacier, according to a new study reported in National Geographic. The melting glaciers are packed with dead microbes that survived on carbon from prehistoric forests and provide an excellent source of nutrition to the living microbes at the base of the marine food web.