Fisticuffs drove evolution of the human face


evolution of the human faceUniversity of Utah

Human faces may have evolved in response to being punched repeatedly.

In order to protect the jaw from breaking during punch-ups, an injury that could have proved fatal in our ancient past, humans evolved “protective buttressing”, claims a paper to be published on 9 June in Biological Reviews.

The research follows analysis of the human hand by the same University of Utah team that in 2012 published a controversial paper suggesting that our hands evolved to allow us to punch better.

“If indeed the evolution of our hand proportions were associated with selection for fighting behaviour,” said lead author David Carrier, “you might expect the primary target, the face, to have undergone evolution to better protect it from injury when punched”.

By examining the skulls of modern humans and australopiths, a human ancestor that became extinct two million years ago, the team detected strong evolutionary changes in the bones that are most likely to fracture during fights.

Additionally, the team says, the protective features in those same bones were markedly different between women and men.

“In other words, male and female faces are different because the parts of the skull that break in fights are bigger in males,” said Carrier.

The study contradicts previous research that suggested a diet of tough nuts and seeds helped drive evolution of our faces. Published in 2009, that study used CT scans to analyse the facial biomechanics of australopiths, finding that their jaws may have been adapted to crunching nuts.

Instead, argue Carrier and coauthor Michael Morgan, violence and conflict over resources, land and reproduction, changed the human face.

The idea that our skulls may be adapted to violence is part of a continuing line of research from Carrier and coauthor Michael Morgan on the influence of violence in early human societies.

Their 2012 study on human hands examined the forces exerted on the fists of martial artists when hitting a punchbag and argued that although our hands also evolved to be dexterous, violence was the leading influence on how they came to have the proportions they do today. In short, our hands are adapted to punching.

Not everyone was convinced, as this National Geographic blog post details, with critics variously arguing that ancient humans would not have fought like martial artists today, using their teeth as much as their hands, and that making a fist is not a natural position for the hand.

Carrier and Morgan’s latest paper is sure to attract similar debate, but if they’re right then understanding human evolution could be as simple as imagining a fist punching a human face – forever.

Wired UK

Tax cheats took billions from Ukraine


“They didn’t care about the police, the security services. Nobody was checking,”Deputy Tax Minister Ihor Bilous said. © Pavlo Podufalov

Kyiv, Ukraine - On paper, the Ukrainian trading firm known as Mistral dealt in management consulting and research, doing millions of dollars’ worth of deals before going bust after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was chased out of office earlier this year.

But when police recently tried to visit Mistral’s Kiev office at No. 12 Saperne Pole Street, they found a huge hole in the ground, the foundation of an apartment complex to be completed next year. There was no trace of Mistral, whose name refers to a type of wind.

A receptionist at No. 5 on that street said there used to be a wine warehouse at the site, but it was cleared when construction began in 2011. Apartment numbers now jump from 9 to 22.

Ukraine’s First Deputy Tax Minister of Revenue and Duties Ihor Bilous works on a computer in his office in Kiev.Ukraine’s First Deputy Tax Minister of Revenue and Duties Ihor Bilous works on a computer in his office in Kiev. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Officials tasked with cleaning the country’s corruption-scarred tax system say the company didn’t merely enter the wrong address. They say Mistral may never have existed in the first place — one of scores or even hundreds of phantom firms suspected of squeezing a total of 130 billion hryvnias ($11 billion) from Kiev’s coffers over the past three years. The country’s total tax revenue amounted to 210 billion hryvnias ($17.8 billion) in 2013.

Some 30 investigations are now underway, and a handful of companies have been raided, but the country’s top tax official contends his predecessors were part of the fraud, which is why many phantom firms acted with impunity.

“They didn’t care about the police, the security services. Nobody was checking,” Deputy Tax Minister Ihor Bilous told The Associated Press in an interview at his Kiev office last month. “That’s why this cancer … spread over the whole country.”

Outside experts support Bilous’ claims, and documents reviewed by the AP — including tax records, a list of alleged phantom companies drawn up by a Ukrainian anti-corruption group, and data from the business intelligence website Arachnys — echo his description of a wide-ranging scheme.

Ukraine’s First Deputy Tax Minister of Revenue and Duties Ihor Bilous speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kiev.Ukraine’s First Deputy Tax Minister of Revenue and Duties Ihor Bilous speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kiev. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Bilous’ assertions are “very hard not to agree with,” said Anna Derevyanko, the director of the Kiev-based European Business Association. “Basically whatever field you are touching, it was corrupt in the territory of Ukraine.”

Tax fraud has long been a problem here, and reforming the country’s revenue system is a key challenge faced by the newly elected administration of Petro Poroshenko, who was sworn in Saturday as Ukrainian president. For now, Ukraine’s budget is being held together with the help of a $17 billion IMF loan package; Bilous says he’s proposing a series of changes to the country’s parliament in a bid to put the country on a firmer financial footing.

The success of those reforms may hinge on whether the country can exorcise its phantom firms, fake companies which have long been used by legitimate businesses to reduce their tax bills.  Continue reading

UK to rewrite law in response to Google’s self-driving cars


Google Driverless Car
Even the car looks shocked that it’s driving itself. Google

The UK must reform transport law to compete with Google’s driverless cars, Science Minister David Willets has said.

Pointing to autonomous car projects like RobotCar UK at Oxford University, Willets said British technology was “cheaper” than Google’s but that the UK was playing catch up as Google’s cars had “notched up more miles.”

He added that he had discussed new regulations for driverless cars with the Department of Transport, saying that the government was keeping an eye on developments in California, where driverless cars will be approved and specifically regulated by 2015.

This isn’t the first time the UK government has publicly backed driverless cars. In 2013, it announced a £10 million prize fund for a town to “develop as a testing ground for driverless cars”. The government also committed to reviewing existing legislation and regulations by the end of 2014 to make the UK “a world centre” for the testing and development of driverless cars.

“We need to work on [new] regulations so that as [driverless] technology develops in Oxford and elsewhere we can see them used,” Willets told the Daily Mail.

His comments follow Google’s recent unveiling of its driverless car, which will lack a steering wheel or pedals and has been designed to have a “friendly” face.

With a record of 700,000 miles driven on public roads and only two accidents, neither of which were the fault of the car, Google’s autonomous car project is further along than competing vehicles. Oxford’s Mobile Robotics Group team, which has developed an autonomous Nissan Leaf, has tested their cars on private roads but they have stayed quiet about the extent and type of testing on public roads in the UK.

There is some scepticism about how quickly autonomous cars can be brought to the UK and the EU more generally. In May, BMW told Wired.co.uk that “EU legislation is just not in place for us to be able to put [driverless] vehicles on the market.”

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders similarly said that it could only envisage seeing driverless cars in the UK “on a small scale” in the 2020s.

Of course, the thorny issues around autonomous cars mean that perhaps these comments shouldn’t be regarded as too pessimistic. And when the government’s review of existing regulation is completed at the end of this year, the route ahead for autonomous cars will be much clearer.

Wired UK

Ukraine, Russia to continue gas price talks, no deal yet


EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger addresses a press conference following talks on energy security in Berlin, on May 30, 2014.GERMANY, Berlin – EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger addresses a press conference following talks on energy security in Berlin, on May 30, 2014. © AFP

BRUSSELS – Eight hours of talks between Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission ended early on June 10 without a deal on resolving a gas pricing row, raising the risk of supply disruption.

Russia has threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine as early as Tuesday, with possible knock-on effects for EU supplies, over Ukraine’s failure to pay its gas bill.

Ukraine’s Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said talks, brokered by the European Commission in Brussels, had stumbled over a Russian price mechanism proposal, which would link lower prices to export duty.

“Unfortunately the Russian position regarding the price mechanism has changed,” he told reporters, speaking through an interpreter.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said he had proposed “a very constructive plan, which we believe all stakeholders could and should accept.”

He said the plan covered how to make outstanding payments for November and December last year by June 10 and in addition for a certain amount of the debt for April and May to be paid.

A European Commission spokeswoman and Prodan said talks could resume either at 9 pm on Tuesday or at 9 am on Wednesday in Brussels.


Reporting by Barbara Lewis and Martin Santa; Editing by Kim Coghill

Reuters

Google to alert users of search request censorship


ShutterstockShutterstock

Google is planning to notify users with alerts when their search results have been censored due to link removal requests made by EU citizens.

According to the Guardian, Google is pondering informing users when their results have been altered after it introduced a new system that allows people to request links to material about themselves that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant”.

Google was quick to bring in the request mechanism following an eyebrow-raising landmark ruling by Europe’s highest court that determined EU citizens have the “right to be forgotten”. The 13 May decision granted a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, who didn’t like the fact that a report about his repossessed property from 1999 still showed up in search results, the right to have the report disassociated with him in search results under the Data Protection Directive. Despite concerns about censorship, Google has promised to give others who had similar qualms about search results the chance to request their removal from its own listings.

The search giant has already been inundated with thousands of requests to have links removed from search results. Google has said it plans to release the full data regarding these requests in its bi-annual transparency report, but has already indicated that of the requests received so far, many are related to fraud, serious crime or child pornography arrests.

Any EU citizen can request to have links removed via a short online form, but Google does not have to honour them — rather it will review them on a case-by-case basis and consider whether or not they are in the public interest. Search results that have been censored will see users alerted in a similar way that they currently are when results have been removed after they have been found to infringe copyright.

Wired UK