It is extraordinary, but true, that one of our great national museums is co-ordinating an activity that breaks international law. That museum is the Natural History Museum, which is collaborating in research with an Israeli commercial firm located in an illegal settlement in the Palestinian West Bank.
The firm is Ahava/Dead Sea Laboratories, whose business is manufacturing cosmetics out of mud, which it excavates from the banks of the Dead Sea. Ahava/DSL is located at Mitzpe Shalem, a settlement 10km beyond the Green Line. The collaboration with the Museum is through an EU-funded project called Nanoretox, in which Kings College London, Imperial College and a number of foreign institutions are also involved. The museum is the coordinating partner for this project.
Ahava/DSL is based on occupied territory. It extracts, processes and exports Palestinian resources to generate profits that fund an illegal settlement. Israel's settlement project has been held by the International Court of Justice to break international law. Organisations which aid and abet this process may well themselves be found to be in violation. We find it almost inconceivable that a national institution of the status of the Natural History Museum should have put itself in this position.
We call on the museum to take immediate steps to terminate its involvement in Nanoretox and to establish safeguards that protect against any comparable entanglement.
Professor Sir Patrick Bateson FRS
University of Cambridge
Professor Malcolm Levitt FRS
University of Southampton
Professor Tim Shallice FRS
Dr Gillian Yudkin
Professor Laurence Dreyfus FBA
University of Oxford
Professor Jacqueline Rose FBA
Queen Mary University of London
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
London School of Economics
Professor John Armitage
University of Bristol
Professor Haim Bresheeth
University of East London
Professor Barry Fuller
University College London
Professor Colin Green
University College, London
Dr Ghada Karmi
University of Exeter
Professor Adah Kay
Professor David Pegg
University of York
Professor Steven Rose
Professor Lynne Segal
Pollution peril for Olympic athletes
Your article on air pollution strikes a chord with me ("Polluted air 'puts Olympic athletes at risk' ", 16 January). As a Putney resident I was dismayed to learn that Putney High Street exceeded its annual nitrogen oxide (NO2) allowance within four days of the new year, the first road in the UK to do so.
The political will to address acute air pollution problems across the capital has been sadly lacking, a recent flurry of activity notwithstanding. London's Low Emission Zone limits need to be tightened farther and faster, and we need an Inner Zone with yet tighter limits to cover all central areas, including the Olympic site (and Putney).
Every UK city needs an LEZ and we need a national policy to address air pollution, which is overwhelmingly caused by vehicle emissions. A government report has estimated there were 29,000 premature deaths in the UK in 2008 due to particulate pollutants in the air. There is no evidence this is falling. How long are we going to tolerate this?
London urgently needs to reduce air pollution, not just in time for the athletes at the 2012 Games, but for the generation of children whose lung capacity could be reduced as a result of failure to deal with this problem. Last year was one of the worst years for air pollution since the big spike in 2003 and we can't afford a rerun in 2012.
There is a dangerous sense of complacency from the London Mayor and the Government. They are doing everything they can to avoid a European fine, except actually solving the problem of air pollution in London. The Mayor needs to act urgently to create a stricter low-emission zone in order to stop the most polluting vehicles entering central London. This is a proposal which commands much cross-party support as well as that of many West End business leaders.
Green Party Member of the London Assembly
One thing wecan all do to improve air quality is to stop idling our engines – creating pollution and needless carbon dioxide, wasting fossil fuels, annoying local people and throwing away money. This has reached epidemic levels in London and major cities but is commonplace even in smaller towns like my own.
Parents who appear otherwise sensible sit outside schools with their engines running, even though pollution of this kind is known to exacerbate asthma and respiratory illness. Buses, coaches, taxis and trucks are all regular offenders. Unnecessary engine idling is against the Highway Code, but little is done to stop it.
Fears that air pollution could affect athletes' health during the Olympics highlight the health crisis faced by Londoners every day. No one wants to see the sort of draconian measures brought in during Beijing's Games, but the Mayor's current plans will only deal cosmetically with a deep, ongoing problem. An inner London low-emission zone would ensure the Olympics leave a lasting legacy for Londoners' health.
CEO, ClientEarth, London E8
No need for high speed
Although I am a rail enthusiast, I have to point out some unjustified assertions in Nicholas Faith's article on HS2 (13 January).
Yes, electric trains are environmentally friendly, particularly if full, and if the electricity is from renewable sources. But some of this advantage is lost to increased air resistance if the trains travel at very high speed.
High-speed rail routes can be noisy. It is disingenuous of Mr Faith to minimise this because he cannot hear the line into Kings Cross. He lives in an urban environment, not the quiet countryside to be affected by HS2. And East Coast trains so close to their terminus will be travelling at about 50mph; no wonder they seem quiet.
We are coming to the end of abundant cheap energy from fossil fuels. Energy conservation and costs will be much more dominant factors in future. So it seems likely that by the time HS2 is fully operational, transport speeds (by all modes) will be going down, not up.
The most sensible thing in Mr Faith's article is his criticism of the HS2 route. New capacity would indeed be less damaging if it followed existing transport corridors (either rail or road). We need more rail capacity for both passengers and freight; but it does not have to be built as high-speed lines.
East Horsley, Surrey
In answer to the letter about high-speed rail transfers (12 January), as part of the Euston redevelopment, an inter-terminal transit link has been proposed, which I assume would be free to use, as are similar systems between airport terminals. This would facilitate passenger interchange between all the routes at the two terminals, including HS1 and HS2 and Thameslink services.
In addition, a new rail connection is proposed to link HS1 and HS2 and allow routing of trains between the Midlands and North of the UK, and Europe. This could allow direct passenger services from Birmingham to Brussels and Frankfurt, for example, and could also enable full-size European freight wagons to reach Birmingham.
Mark E Townend
Cameron defies troublesome Scots
We are frequently told that David Cameron is both highly intelligent and a master of PR. Until now, I had never quite believed this but I am now convinced.
Many commentators, Andrew Grice included (14 January), question whether he realises the effect on Scottish voters of his intervention in the referendum debate. Surely he can't be so stupid and out-of-touch? Surely he realises that Tory interference will massively increase the number of Scots voting for independence? Of course he does.
What he really cares about is clinging to power at Westminster, and what better way to ensure that than to get rid of all those MPs voted in by the troublesome, Tory-hating Scots? Genius.
Bridge of Don, Aberdeenshire
Andrew Grice is wrong about why Scotland hates the Tories. It's not the poll tax but the 18 years of being ruled by a government that we didn't elect, which closed our industries and stole natural resources to fund London's yuppie culture. Westminster fiddles resulted in an unfair independence vote in 1979; some things haven't changed.
Too far to go for lifejackets
It puzzles me that passengers on the Costa Concordia had to return to their cabins for their lifejackets. Most were in the restaurant or the theatre. Maritime safety law should stipulate that there be sufficient lifejackets available for all on the upper decks of every ship with passenger accommodation, as well as lifejackets in cabins. This would eliminate the need to descend several decks to a cabin and then return to the upper decks for evacuation.
Much that has been written about the financial situation is based on fallacies. One is that only tax-payers pay for cleaning up the financial mess. The people who really pay will be those like Baby Peter and Victoria Climbié who would benefit from improved social services, and the soldiers sent into combat without adequate body armour or helicopter support; and of course, the victims of people who would otherwise have been treated and helped out of a life a crime. It is the people who would have benefited from the now diverted taxes who really pay, sometimes with their lives.
Not that rare
In your article "Smartphones fear as China holds precious metals key" (9 January), you say that "tungsten, platinum and cobalt are among the 'rare earth' metals in short supply". None of these three metals is a rare earth; they are all transition metals. And there is no sign that prices for any of them are "soaring". Current prices for all three are lower than they were six months ago.
Skipton, North Yorkshire
John Peacock (letter, 16 January) suggests that, at least in Frome and Hong Kong, time is too fast. How times change. How many others still fondly recall – and dutifully heed – the advice of a sturdy no-nonsense 1970s London Underground chocolate bar vending machine that we "allow time to drop"?
Michael Gove wants to make it easier to dismiss unsatisfactory teachers. Teachers could fulfil their function much better if they could dismiss unsatisfactory pupils.