Five things: FB illnesses and outer-space cleaning

The M&G‘s Faranaaz Parker rounds up five quirky things you may have missed over the last week.

North Sea fish decimated daily
The United Kingdom’s (UK) Independent newspaper last week reported on a fishing quota scandal that rocked the European Union—almost half the fish caught in the North Sea is thrown back into the sea. This was discovered during research for a UK television series.

According to the Fish Fight project almost a million dead and dying fish are discarded each year before they even reach the docks. Campaigners are now calling for reform in Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy.

Because of the high rate of ‘bycatch” in day-to-day fishing—that is, hauling in one type of fish when you’re actually fishing for another—fishermen often discard fish by the ton for fear that they will be fined for exceeding their quotas.

Environmental groups have called on fishing companies to follow the lead of certain American fisheries, which use special equipment and practices to reduce bycatch.

Grappling over catches and bycatches is no trivial matter. Ecologists say that if global fishing practices remain unchanged salt water fish may become extinct within a generation.

Facebook trigger for Asthma
Friday tends to be a slow news day so it was perhaps unsurprising that the internet was abuzz with news that a study had found Facebook can trigger asthma attacks.

An academic paper published in the respected medical journalthe Lancet described the case of an Italian teenager whose asthma attacks coincided with his Facebook logins.

Things weren’t quite as cut-and-dried as they seemed though. The boy had broken up with and been ‘defriended” by his girlfriend. After creating a fake profile and getting back onto her friends list, he started seeing pictures of her with other boys. And that’s when the asthma attacks hit.

Despite the virtual world setting, the boy’s asthma attacks were in fact brought on by well-known trigger—psychological stress. The authors of the paper pointed out that doctors should be aware that social networks can be ‘a source of psychological stress” and a ‘triggering factor” in depressed asthmatics.

MySpace surrenders to Facebook
In a seeming surrender, one-time social media behemoth MySpace announced that it would allow users to stream their Facebook updates to their MySpace pages.

CNet writer Tom Krazit says this is a sign that “the first round of social network battles is over”.

MySpace has been losing ground to Facebook steadily over the years—according to PC World, MySpace lost about half its total traffic between mid-2009 and mid-2010—and this move is just the latest attempt to integrate with Facebook.

The company is now trying to rebrand itself as a social entertainment site, which focuses mainly on bands and celebrities.

Pope backtracks on condoms
An about-turn on condom-use from Pope Benedict the XVI left Catholics scratching their heads this week.

The Pope said in an interview that was later translated into various languages, that it is acceptable for prostitutes to use condoms in order to prevent the spread of disease. But different translations interpreted this as either “male prostitutes” or “female prostitutes” and it was at first thought that he was referring only to male prostitutes.

A few days later the Vatican clarified the Pope’s position—his spokesperson Federico Lombardi said that in cases where lives could be saved, condom use was seen as the lesser of two evils and that it applied to men, women and transsexuals.

The Catholic position on contraception however remains firm—contraceptives, including condoms when used for such purposes, are still banned.

The news may have caused much debate within Catholic circles, but for others it seemed less of an issue. Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign Nonkosi Khumalo this week said the Pope’s changing stance on condom use for HIV prevention was a case of too little, too late.

Russia targets space debris
Russia is to invest almost $2-billion in a space clean-up programme.

Russia’s space corporation Energia says it will complete assembly of a nuclear-powered space clearing satellite by 2020 and complete testing by 2023. The slow-moving Wall-E-like satellite will spend about a decade cleaning up the 600-odd defunct satellites that clutter space around the planet, spewing debris.

According to Fast Company the satellite will ‘deorbit” the space junk, dragging it into the Earth’s outer atmosphere, where it will quickly burn up or crash safely into the ocean.

Nearby space is becoming increasingly cluttered, leaving little room for new satellites. Last year, a satellite which provided mobile voice and data communications collided with a derelict Russian satellite.

The question that Energia didn’t answer in its press statement on the matter was whether—or rather what—it would be charging for this service.

Faranaaz’s interests span science, technology and development. Read her weekly wrap every weekend on the M&G and follow her on Twitter here

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker


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