22nd December 2019

Science Wimbledon junior champion Noah Rubin on improving mental health in tennis

Science Wimbledon junior champion Noah Rubin on improving mental health in tennis

Science

science Behind The Racquet

Noah Rubin (centre) has captured the stories of Grand Slam finalists Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova and Madison Keys (top row), comedian Miranda Hart and LMFAO singer Redfoo (middle row), plus British players Heather Watson, Cameron Norrie and Katie Swan (bottom row)

Recently crowned US Open champion Bianca Andreescu speaks of “feeling worthless” as she struggled to cope with the attention of being a rising teenage star.

Former Grand Slam finalist Madison Keys reveals an eating disorder left her living off three low-calorie bars a day.

British player Katie Swan talks about the impact of her coach’s son falling through a glass window and needing life-saving surgery.

Mental health issues. Sexuality. Financial worries. Leaving home for the first time. Death.

American player Noah Rubin, the 2014 Wimbledon junior champion seeking to fulfil his promise on the ATP Tour, is giving his fellow professionals a platform to open up – whatever the subject.

His Behind The Racquet project, inspired by Humans of New York – a revealing photoblog of the city’s residents now tracked by millions of social media users worldwide, sees current players, former players and celebrity fans including British comedian Miranda Hart pose behind the strings of a racquet.

Accompanying the striking image is an emotive personal story.

“This has never really been done before, something that shows what these people, who are thought of as having perfect lives or doing really well because they are professional players, are really going through,” Rubin tells BBC Sport.

“You really get an understanding of what they’re going through on a day-to-day basis, what their thought process is, what their mentality is, how they are feeling, how their family is, just how difficult tennis is.”

Rubin, 23, is determined to influence change in a sport which he says is “very tough on the body and the mind”.

Belgian player Alison van Uytvanck, in a post published earlier this month, gives a candid insight into the low self-esteem she felt as a youngster when she was bullied at training camps because of her ginger hair.

“I never felt so alone, having no friends and unable to really talk to parents,” she says. “I had no-one to lean on for help and found myself crying in my room day after day.”

Rubin believes a fundamental overhaul of the game is needed to help improve the mental wellbeing of the players, while he also says more support pathways need to be opened up.

Improved access to psychologists and the creation of outreach programmes for youngsters, where a former professional is easily contactable to offer advice, is a key strategy outlined by Rubin.

“The seasons are way too long, the matches are too long, it is not fan-friendly, it is not promotable, it is not TV-friendly. There are so many issues,” Rubin says.

“I think we are a little scared of making true fundamental changes – but we have to.”

The ATP Tour’s 2020 season begins on 2 January with the newly launched ATP Cup, starting just six weeks after some of the world’s leading male players took part in the inaugural Davis Cup finals.

Top female players have a slightly longer break – the season-opening Brisbane International on 6 January comes two months after the WTA Finals finished.

While men’s five-set matches are now reserved for Grand Slams and the Olympic final, the length of matches has still prompted plenty of debate.

Tentative attempts to introduce shorter formats of the game have been made – notably with first-to-four-games sets at the ATP NextGen finals and the creation of the Tie Break Tens events, but are yet to break through on the main ATP and WTA Tours.

Uniform change is difficult, however, with seven governing bodies – the ITF, ATP, WTA and four Grand Slams – rarely pulling in the same direction.

“We’re at a time where we have to break down the sport of tennis, invest, take a hit for a year or two and bring the sport to a place to where it has never been before,” Rubin says.

The WTA says the health and safety of its players – physical and mental – are its “number one priority”.

“The WTA has a comprehensive sports science and medicine and athlete assistance support system in place, which is staffed by experienced and expert therapists within the WTA,” it said in a statement.

“The WTA provides extensive resources and education to [help] players manage the challenges professional athletes may face, such as performing under pressure, international travel, managing health, public scrutiny, public commentary and ‘growing up’ in the public eye.”

The WTA added that players can receive individual counselling and support if needed from qualified mental health care providers, both at WTA tournaments and remotely.

The ATP said it was “continually looking to build on its duty of care towards its players” and had recently carried out a review of this area with players, team members and industry experts.

In a statement, the ATP said: “Tournament physicians and physiotherapists on the ATP Tour are in continual contact with players and their support teams throughout the year. In cases where a player were to express psychological concerns, we have an infrastructure that would refer them to the appropriate consultant.

“In situations where ATP physios and tournament physicians are concerned about a player’s mental, emotional and psychological health, we would recommend that the player seek treatment and assist in the initiation of the appropriate care.”

‘I had dark times. This sport isn’t conducive to happiness’

Passionate, articulate and determined to influence change, Rubin speaks from the heart.

Around the time of this year’s French Open, he almost stopped playing a sport to which he has dedicated most of his life. As an 11-year-old, he was said to have been described as “one of the most talented players” fellow New Yorker John McEnroe had come across.

“I didn’t know whether I was going to stop for good or just some real time off. I was telling my family and friends that I just don’t want to play the sport any more,” Rubin remembers.

“I wasn’t happy – the sport isn’t conducive to happiness. I don’t know if I want to throw the word depressed around, but at moments I felt like that.

“I was really thinking this was the end and the last time I was going to hit a tennis ball competitively.”

What changed for the world number 212 was spending less time on court, addressing his work-life balance and rediscovering the fun which made him enjoy tennis in the first place.

Rubin moved back to New York from Florida, practised about an hour a day, and then qualified for Wimbledon where he missed out on a third-round meeting with Roger Federer by losing to British youngster Jay Clarke.

Rubin repeatedly makes it clear he still loves the sport, and believes a change of focus – he talks of his love for fashion and photography, as well as still having time for Netflix and HBO – can enable him to crack the world’s top 50 next year.

“I started to figure out that it is far more important to put happiness on a pedestal rather than spend eight hours on a court,” he concludes.

“I had dark times where I didn’t know if I was going to make it out as a tennis player.

“This world of Behind The Racquet has opened up my eyes, it has given me another passion and helped take some pressure of the world of tennis.

“Now I understand it is far more important to be happy.”

Rubin pauses as he recalls one story, which he says still gives him “chills”.

“It was Jolene Watanabe, who was a top-100 player and played in the Grand Slams in the 1990s. She had cancer, was in remission, and I thought she was going to make it.

“Then I got a message from her husband on Instagram saying ‘I just want you to know she is saying her final goodbyes right now and it would be very much appreciated if you could post her story’.

“To hear that they’re going through something where she’s not going to make it and he was thinking he wanted me to post her story on Behind The Racquet so people could know about it, be a part of it and inspire them… it leaves me speechless.

“To have that kind of impact was something I could not have fathomed, especially this early on, and that’s why I keep pushing on.”

Jolene Watanabe, who famously beat Jennifer Capriati at the 1997 Australian Open, had her story posted by Behind The Racquet on 2 May this year. She died on 22 June.

How it began… and what next?

It was during a sleepless night after arriving home from Australia that Rubin formulated the concept of Behind The Racquet.

After inspiration struck at 3am, he acquired the name of his new project on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Within three days he had posted for the first time.

Ten months later, Behind The Racquet has about 35,000 followers across the three platforms, along with a podcast and clothing range as Rubin aims to build the brand.

The next phase is already being worked on, with Rubin aiming to link-up with Talkspace, an online therapy platform which boasts legendary American swimmer Michael Phelps as an ambassador, and the National Association of Mental Illness, as he looks to set up mental health camps for players and perhaps film a docu-series.

Sharing the stories of the sport’s biggest names – Rubin hopes seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Venus Williams and US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev will feature before the end of the year – is another target.

“Not only are many in a sport where they can’t make money, they’re in a sport where you don’t win very often, so they’re combining failure on the court with failure financially,” Rubin says.

“What I’m really trying to do is pave a way for people that, in five or 10 years from now, are saying ‘this is better because of Behind The Racquet’.”

Noah Rubin launched Behind The Racquet with a post on 19 January where he revealed his “most daunting fear” was letting down family and friends

22nd December 2019

Science Once-a-month oral contraceptive pill in tests

Science Once-a-month oral contraceptive pill in tests

Science

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Researchers have developed a once-a-month oral contraceptive pill that they say would offer women more choice and control over their fertility.

Once swallowed, the pill remains in the stomach for weeks, slowly releasing hormones to prevent a pregnancy.

It is specially designed to resist immediate attack by stomach acid.

A US team, funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has tested it in pigs and hopes human trials can start within a few years.

The researchers say it would be a good option for women who want to take a tablet for birth control, but are worried about remembering to take a daily dose.

Science How effective is the Pill?

The conventional Pill or combined oral contraceptive is used by millions of women around the world.

It should be 99% effective, meaning fewer than one in every hundred women using it will get pregnant.

But studies suggest nearly half of users will miss the odd dose or sometimes take their pill at the wrong time.

That makes the pill closer to 91% effective, meaning about nine in every hundred women using it will get pregnant in any given year.

There are other longer-lasting contraceptive choices already available – including bi-monthly injections, or patches that need changing weekly – but no once-a-month oral pill.

Science How does the once-a-month pill work?

The prototype is a star-shaped drug delivery system packaged into an easy-to-swallow dissolvable capsule no bigger than a regular fish oil tablet.

Once it reaches the stomach, the star unfolds like a flower and starts doing its work of steadily releasing contraceptive hormones housed on its six arms.

The star is too big to immediately exit the stomach and will remain there for weeks until it has finished its job and can be broken down and excreted from the body.

Dr Giovanni Traverso, from Harvard Medical School, who developed the prototype with colleagues at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: “Our studies suggest there shouldn’t be any problem with blockages or digesting and passing food. We take safety very seriously.”

The trial findings are published in the journal Science of Translational Medicine.

A biotech company called Lyndra is now developing the star contraceptive pill with more funds from The Gates Foundation.

It has already started testing the same star-shaped design in patients, and wants to see if it can safely and reliably deliver other drugs, such as malaria therapies, too.

Science What do experts think?

Dr Diana Mansour, from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, said: “The concept of a monthly oral contraceptive pill is attractive and has the potential to broaden contraceptive choice.

“In theory, a monthly pill may be more effective than current oral contraceptives, which women are required to take every day.

“However, the development of such a novel contraceptive is still in its early stages. We look forward to further research in this area.”

Anatole Menon-Johansson, from the charity Brook, said: “This is an exciting breakthrough for contraceptive options, and expanding the range of methods available is certainly a positive.

“However, additional work is required to ensure that the dose can be delivered at a sufficient level to suppress ovulation, and then this approach will need to be tested in humans.”

22nd December 2019

Science Ovarian cancer drug olaparib approved in Scotland as new treatment

Science Ovarian cancer drug olaparib approved in Scotland as new treatment

Science

science Olaparib tablets

Image caption

Olaparib tablets will be available for patients with newly-diagnosed BRCA-mutated advanced ovarian cancer who have responded to chemotherapy

A maintenance treatment for patients with advanced ovarian cancer has been approved for use in Scotland.

Olaparib tablets will now be available for patients with newly-diagnosed BRCA-mutated advanced ovarian cancer who have responded to chemotherapy.

A trial has found that for those taking tablets, it can be three years before the disease progresses.

Approximately 600 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Scotland every year.

Two thirds of of them are diagnosed when the disease is more advanced and the chances of survival are lower.

About 22% of ovarian cancer patients (132 patients in Scotland) carry a BRCA mutation, which can be identified via genetic testing after referral.

Science ‘Olaparib has given me a new lease of life’

Jennifer Jennings, 59, from Edinburgh, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015. She underwent chemotherapy followed by surgery and another three months of chemo.

In December that year she was told there were no longer any visible signs of the cancer.

She was checked every three months but in January 2018 the cancer came back.

She went through another six rounds of gruelling chemotherapy and then started taking olaparib.

“We’re now past the year marker, which for me is really good,” she said. “That’s helped me feel a bit more positive that my cancer’s under control. It’s let me get on with my life – I’m not continually thinking ‘When’s it coming back?’. I’m more positive about the future.”

A scan on Wednesday did not show any significant change.

“That tells me that the olaparib is doing its job,” she said.

Jennifer, a Police Scotland support worker, is now looking forward to her first granddaughter arriving in January.

“Maybe a year ago I was full of what ifs,” she said. “I didn’t know how I was going to be. How frail I was going to be. But this has given me positivity. It’s given me a new lease of life.

“I’m able to be back at work full time which I’m enjoying and I just feel I’ve got my life back on track. Back to where I was in 2016 after my treatment finished the first time.”

Prof Charlie Gourley, UK lead of the SOLO-1 clinical trial and clinical director of the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre, said: “Olaparib is a practice-changing treatment that exploits the Achilles’ heel of BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer.

“The unprecedented results of the SOLO-1 clinical trial show that giving olaparib after surgery and chemotherapy to patients who are newly-diagnosed with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer result in approximately three additional years before their disease progresses, giving them longer before further rounds of chemotherapy are needed.

“Although the data are immature, we are hopeful that this treatment may also increase overall survival in the future.”

He added: “It is now imperative that all women with ovarian cancer are tested for the BRCA mutation to give them the benefit of this therapy wherever possible.”

Science ‘Significant advancement’

More than 350 women die from ovarian cancer in Scotland each year.

Olaparib is one of a new generation of drugs which work by stopping cancer cells from repairing themselves, effectively crippling them.

The decision brings Scotland in line with the rest of the UK.

Olaparib had previously been available in Scotland to a small number of women who had advanced ovarian cancer, from after a second round of chemotherapy treatment.

Marie-Claire Platt, head of public affairs and research at Ovarian Cancer Action, said: “Today’s news marks a significant advancement in how we can treat BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer in Scotland.”

Rachel Downing, head of policy and campaigns at Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “We are thrilled that it has been approved. For those women that can access it its results have been tremendous.”

Biopharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and MSD announced on Monday that Olaparib monotherapy has been accepted for use by the Scottish Medicines Consortium.

Mohit Manrao, business unit director, oncology, at AstraZeneca UK said: “We are delighted with today’s decision which means that, for the first time, women with newly diagnosed BRCA-mutated advanced ovarian cancer have access to a medicine specifically designed for their type of cancer.

“We made olaparib available to these patients in the UK via an early access programme since December 2018 and, now that it will be available within NHS Scotland, we hope that this product of British science will help to improve outcomes for these patients.”

22nd December 2019

Science How a wrong injection helped cause Samoa’s measles epidemic

Science How a wrong injection helped cause Samoa’s measles epidemic

Science

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Authorities warn that children are particularly at risk from the disease

The number of people killed in Samoa’s measles outbreak has reached 53, with almost 4,000 cases reported in total.

Health Ministry statistics show that 48 of the dead are children below the age of five.

Although measles deaths worldwide have fallen sharply since the 1960s, the World Health Organization has warned of a comeback around the world since 2017.

Samoa’s low vaccination rates are in part due to the deaths in 2018 of two children given a wrongly-mixed vaccine.

Measles is a highly contagious illness that causes coughing, rashes and fever.

Although effective and safe vaccination is available, even some developed countries have seen a resurgence in recent years.

The rise is – in part – due to some parents shunning vaccines for philosophical or religious reasons, or concerns, debunked by medical science, that vaccines are linked to autism.

Science How bad is the Samoa measles outbreak?

On Monday, the Pacific island nation said the overall number of cases stands at 3,728.

The number of new cases recorded on Sunday and Monday alone was 198.

The country, with a population of around 200,000, declared a state of emergency on 20 November.

Most public gatherings have been banned and schools and universities have been closed.

“The situation has a tremendous impact on everybody,” Sheldon Yett, Unicef representative to the Pacific, told the BBC.

“People are nervous, people are seeing the impact of this disease. Samoa is a very small country and everybody knows somebody who’s been affected by this.”

Since the emergency declaration last month, a mass vaccination campaign has got under way, with more than 58,000 people successfully vaccinated, the government said.

The epidemic has also seen a surge in alternative medicines touted as cures. Some reports suggest vitamin products or alkalised water are being sold as treatment.

Science Why is Samoa hit so hard?

Vaccination rates – meaning the number of young children covered – recently dropped to a low of only 31% in Samoa, compared to 99% in nearby Nauru, Niue, and Cook Islands.

In part, that low rate has been attributed to the deaths of two children.

In July 2018, two infants died in Samoa after receiving vaccinations against measles, mumps and rubella, raising local fears over the vaccine itself.

But the deaths were later established to have been due to the nurses mixing the vaccine with an expired muscle relaxant, instead of water.

The two nurses pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to five years in prison.

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Media captionIt’s a numbers game… if some people are not vaccinated, it can cause a big problem for us all

“We have to make clear that vaccines are perfectly safe,” Mr Yett said.

“These deaths were due to human error. But the fact that you had two children die on the same day in the same institution, obviously caused a great deal of distrust towards the health system and towards vaccinations.

“It provided the perfect opening for people who wanted to spread misinformation and lies.”

Science ‘Lies and misinformation’

Aid from the US, New Zealand and Australia is helping local health authorities in Samoa to drive the mass vaccination.

But the key message from the current crisis, said Mr Yett, is that parents should vaccinate their children.

“People who are spreading lies and misinformation about vaccinations are killing children,” he said.

“The best way to keep children safe is to make sure they’re immunised. Preventing vaccination and presenting false information kills children. That is clear – the evidence speaks for itself.”

Ideally, every country should have an immunisation level of above 90%, he said.

Samoa’s fellow Pacific island nations Tonga and Fiji have also declared states of emergency to tackle their measles outbreaks.

However, both countries have far higher vaccination rates and have so far not reported any deaths.

Science The global surge

Worldwide, the number of cases quadrupled in the first three months of 2019 compared with the same time last year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Before the introduction of a vaccine in 1963, “major epidemics occurred approximately every 2-3 years and measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year”, according to the WHO.

Numbers of measles cases were steadily declining worldwide until three years ago, when the illness saw a resurgence.

Earlier this year, the WHO said four European countries, including the UK, were no longer seen as measles-free.

It is estimated that a global total of 110,000 people die from measles each year.

22nd December 2019

Science What unites us: 10 reasons why we’re not a divided nation

Science What unites us: 10 reasons why we’re not a divided nation

Science

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Much of the talk since the Brexit referendum has been of a nation divided, split by geography, income, education and age.

But despite the Remainer v Leaver rhetoric, most people in the UK actually appear to agree on a wide variety of subjects, and share an increasingly socially liberal outlook.

Here are 10 subjects that unite most of us in Britain, according to recent polling.

Science 1. Being faithful to our partners

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Almost all of us Britons – 99% – feel “some” or “significant” responsibility to be faithful to our partners, a ComRes survey for BBC News suggests.

Women appear more likely to feel significant responsibility than men – of those surveyed, 86% of women felt significant responsibility, compared with 79% of the men.

Among the men surveyed, those in older age brackets were more likely to feel significant responsibility than those in younger groups. Some 87% of the men over the age of 55 felt this level of responsibility, compared with 66% of those aged 16-24.

Science 2. The principle of equal pay

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There is almost universal support for the principle of equal pay between men and women, the annual British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey suggests.

Of those surveyed, about nine in 10 of us (89%) said it was wrong for men to be paid more than women doing the same job in the same company.

There were differences in the strength of opinion between men and women, however, with 78% of the women surveyed considering this pay inequality “very wrong”, compared with 57% of the men.

Science 3. Viewing a woman’s role as no longer in the home

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Three-quarters of Britons reject the idea women should be “homemakers” and men should be “breadwinners”, according to BSA data.

Not only did those surveyed see women as having a role outside the home, they were also unlikely to see particular roles as being men’s or women’s work.

Most of us also think men and women are mostly equally suited to working in a wide range of roles, including doctor, councillor and MP, the BSA survey suggests.

About half said men and women were “equally suited” to “all” or “almost all jobs”, with a further third saying men and women were equally suited to “most jobs”.

Four in 10 said a mother should take most of a parental leave period, with the father taking some. A third said it should be shared equally between both parents.

Nancy Kelley, deputy chief executive of Natcen Social Research, which carries out the British Social Attitudes survey, says the shifts in attitudes towards women’s roles and rights, as well as sexual relationships, are one of the “most striking stories” seen in the survey over the past few decades.

And while it may appear politically divided right now, particularly around Brexit, the country remains “very, very united” on a number of social issues.

“On all of those kinds of things we’ve become increasingly socially liberal,” she says. “This is very different from the US, where alongside very political divides, you see what you might describe as a ‘culture war’ – we don’t see that at all in our data.”

Such trends are longstanding and researchers expect them to continue, she adds, suggesting Britons will continue to agree on some of the fundamental social issues in the UK.

Science 4. Seeing gay relationships as ‘not wrong at all’

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Two-thirds of Britons say sex between two adults of the same sex is “not wrong at all”, according to the BSA survey, an increase of almost 50% since the question was first asked, in 1983.

It suggests approval for same-sex relationships has risen steadily after a fall in the mid-1980s – the time of the Aids crisis and the government’s “Don’t die of ignorance,” campaign.

According to the BSA researchers, this rise is not just down to a generational change: older people too have become more liberal in their views, and so have those who do not follow a religion.

However, the BSA survey does note the liberalisation in attitudes to sexual relationships appears to be slowing down.

The proportion of respondents stating sexual relations between two adults of the same sex are “not wrong at all” has remained at about two-thirds (64%, 68% and 66%) for the past three years.

Researchers say this suggests a significant minority of people remain uncomfortable with same-sex relationships. This is, perhaps, “reflecting the marked divides between the attitudes of religious and non-religious people”, they say.

Science 5. Supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion

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There is near unanimous support (92% in 2016) for abortions when a woman’s health is in danger, according to the BSA survey. And since 2005, support for allowing an abortion if the woman does not wish to have a child has increased from 60 to 69%.

Science 6. Trusting science and scientists

More than eight in 10 Britons trust university scientists “to do their work with the intention of benefitting the public” and 67% trust company scientists to do the same, according to the BSA survey.

An even higher percentage – 94% – believe medical research in particular will “lead to an improvement in the quality of life” over the coming decades.

Graduates and those in managerial and professional occupations have a particularly high level of trust in university scientists at 90%, compared with 73% of those with no qualifications.

There is little evidence of a “disenfranchised population turning against the institutions of science”, BSA researchers say, despite popular accounts of declining trust in “experts”.

Science 7. Believing in the NHS

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Almost eight in 10 people (77%) believe the NHS is crucial to British society, according to a survey by Ipsos Mori for the King’s Fund think-tank.

This support has remained constant through changes in government and fluctuations in the economy.

About 90% also support the NHS’s three founding principles – that it should be free at the point of delivery; provide a comprehensive service available to everyone; and be primarily funded through taxation. Perhaps more surprisingly, two-thirds are also prepared to pay more tax to maintain the level of spending needed to keep the NHS going.

However, satisfaction with the service appears to be dropping, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey. Overall satisfaction was 53% in 2018 – a three percentage point drop from the previous year and the lowest level since 2007.

Science 8. Believing the Royal Family is important

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More than seven in 10 Britons believe it is “very” or “quite important” for the country to continue to have a monarchy, according to the BSA survey.

However, the size of this majority did shrink significantly between the 1980s and 1990s, before growing again in the 2000s.

In 1983, more than 86% were in favour of the monarchy. But this figure fell to 66% in 1994 – around the time of the Prince of Wales’ separation from Diana, Princess of Wales, and ahead of her death in a car accident, in 1997.

But public opinion rose again following a low in 2003, to reach 76% in 2012 – the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Britain has marked a number of other royal milestones in the past few years: the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding, in 2011, and that of the the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in 2018, as well as a number of royal births.

Science 9. Thinking climate change is at least partly caused by humans

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As many as 95% of Britons think climate change is at least partly due to human activity, according to the 2018 European Social Survey (the European sister of the BSA).

Some 36% say it is “mainly” or “entirely” due to human activity, while 53% think human and natural causes are equally to blame.

Just 2% say climate change “definitely is not happening”.

Science 10. Loving David Attenborough, health charities, Heinz, Lego, Google Maps and Maltesers

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When it comes to things – rather than social views – celebrities, charities and food dominate the collective most-loved list, according to YouGov.

David Attenborough comes top, with a massive 87% approval, its polling suggests.

And he is followed on its most-popular-things list by a number of health charities, including the St John Ambulance Brigade (87%) and Macmillan Cancer Support (86%) and actor Tom Hanks (84%).

10 reasons why we’re not a divided nation

Overall, 19 of the top 100 entries are charities. A quarter are people – mainly actors – and a quarter are foods.

Science PS: Leavers and Remainers may not be so far apart

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A study by Dr Paul Hanel, research associate at Bath University’s department of psychology, suggests those on either side of the Brexit argument actually agree on a wide range of subjects.

His research indicates the views of Leavers and Remainers are actually 90% similar across a number of topics, including poverty, climate change, housing, British identity, life satisfaction, the importance of involvement in communities.

Even on subjects viewed as the most divisive, such as attitudes to immigrants and national identity, the two groups showed more than 50% similarity, Dr Hanel says.

He says a focus on “differences” means we overstate the gap between Leavers and Remainers, and that the evidence that they have more in common may help heal the wounds caused by the Brexit debate.

“Its easier to talk to someone else if there are more similarities between you than you might expect,” , Mr Hanel says.

Design by Mark Bryson, Joy Roxas and Sana Jasemi.

Science BBC Crossing Divides

A season of stories about bringing people together in a fragmented world.

21st December 2019

Technology Premier League streaming on Amazon Prime – was broadcaster’s debut a success?

Technology Premier League streaming on Amazon Prime – was broadcaster’s debut a success?

Technology

Technology Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime streamed a whole round of Premier League fixtures over three nights

It was a historic moment in Premier League football this week as a whole round of fixtures were streamed online via Amazon Prime.

After decades of traditional broadcasting methods, this was a step into the unknown and a glimpse at what the future of watching football at home could look like.

Amazon say it was “one of the biggest-ever streaming events in the UK”.

But was it a success? BBC Sport takes a look at what worked and what didn’t with Amazon Prime’s first stab at covering Premier League football.

What did they do differently?

As ever when a new broadcaster gets in on the action, people were curious to see what little innovations Amazon Prime would bring.

For some, that was as simple as where the score and clock would be positioned on screen…

Amazon Prime opted for a traditional position in this area, with the score taking its familiar place in the top-left corner of the screen – although it placed the time in the middle of the scoreboard, with each club’s score on the outside.

But it was the other elements it brought to its live match coverage that drew praise.

Viewers were impressed with the ability to access line-ups, stats and highlights on the right-hand side of the screen as the game unfolded, while the option to switch off commentary and simply listen to the stadium atmosphere proved particularly popular.

There was also a lot of love for their Goals Centre show, which took fans around the grounds on Wednesday to see the goals as they went in.

Crystal Palace fans displayed this banner at their game with Bournemouth on Tuesday

They also opted for slightly different start times, with this week’s games kicking off at either 19:30 or 20:15, rather than the 19:45 or 20:00 times people are more accustomed to.

There were some complaints about these changes, with Crystal Palace fans highlighting their grievance during their game with Bournemouth on Tuesday, while the Manchester Evening News reported that the earlier kick-off time for Manchester United’s game against Tottenham led to gridlock on the city’s roads.

What was the verdict on the pundits?

Gabby Logan, Thierry Henry, Peter Crouch and Roberto Martinez were among the 43-strong group of presenters, pundits and commentators signed up by Amazon Prime

Amazon signed up a whole of host of presenters and pundits for this week’s games.

Providing their thoughts on the action were ex-pros such as Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Michael Owen, Alex Scott and Harry Redknapp, while the voices in the commentary box included the familiar tones of Jon Champion, Guy Mowbray and Clive Tyldesley.

Anchoring their coverage were Gabby Logan and Eilidh Barbour, as well as Jim Rosenthal – a veteran of eight World Cups with ITV.

How was the picture quality?

Viewers could select the game they wanted to watch as well as get access to line-ups, statistics and highlights

Let’s be honest, we humans are not instinctively big fans of change. When something is a bit different then more often than not our first reaction is to look for reasons why the change is bad.

The big concern for viewers was whether an online streaming service could retain a high-quality picture throughout a 90-minute game, particularly on a night like Wednesday when Amazon Prime had six streams at the same time.

On the whole, Amazon appeared to come up trumps in this area. There were a few comments on social media suggesting dips in quality or some stuttering but, on the whole, the streams appeared to hold up pretty well.

The main concern for many fans was how far behind the streams were compared to things like Twitter or score alerts on people’s phones.

For some people on social media, the delay was a couple of seconds but for others it was over a minute, significantly impairing their ability to watch the game while commentating about the action on Twitter or keeping up to date with scores from elsewhere. In some cases BBC Sport goal alerts appeared on phones before the ball hit the back of the net on the feed.

In an age when speed is everything, this is one area fans will want to see a big improvement if they are going to leave behind standard forms of broadcasting in favour of streamed matches.

So, is it the future?

There was no big fanfare from Amazon for the launch of its coverage. In fact, rather the opposite. Their historic first fixture was Tuesday’s relatively low-key meeting between Crystal Palace and Bournemouth.

It seemed the intention was to slip in relatively quietly, provide a glimpse of what it could offer and win fans over by providing a mixture of familiarity and convenience.

And it appears to have worked, with Tuesday and Wednesday the two biggest Prime sign-up days in UK history.

“We are thrilled and humbled by the positive response from Prime members,” said Alex Green, managing director for Prime Video Sport Europe.

There are concerns, though, about what adding a third broadcaster into the mix will mean for fans.

Amazon rode to the rescue for Burnley’s game against Manchester City on Tuesday when they provided some lights after the away dressing room suddenly went dark

At the moment it requires an additional subscription charge for anyone who wants to see all broadcast games, while the Football Supporters’ Federation has expressed concerns that the sheer volume of games being shown on Sky, BT and now Amazon could have a negative effect on attendances, by away fans in particular.

There is also the aforementioned issue of the streams sometimes being quite a bit behind live score websites and social media.

Technology, though, will improve and once live streaming actually means live then it could usher in a new era of how we watch football outside of the stadium.

21st December 2019

Technology Chaayos cafe: Indian cafe’s facial recognition use sparks anger

Technology Chaayos cafe: Indian cafe’s facial recognition use sparks anger

Technology

Technology Facial recognition concept - stock vectorImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

India does not have laws governing the collection of biometric data

Indians have expressed concern after it emerged that a popular cafe chain – Chaayos – is using facial recognition software to bill customers.

Nikhil Pahwa, the editor of media watchdog MediaNama, posted a video on Twitter after he said staff took his picture to bill him without consent.

“This is unnecessarily intrusive and there was no opt-out option, which is problematic,” Mr Pahwa told the BBC.

Chaayos defended its system, saying it was committed to protecting customers.

“We are extremely conscious about our customer’s data security and privacy,” the company said in a statement to the BBC.

The chain also said that customers could choose to opt out of using the facial recognition feature and instead use their phone numbers to pay bills.

However, Mr Pahwa told the BBC that the facial recognition system was a mandatory requirement for joining its loyalty programme. He added that his picture had been taken despite the fact he was not a part of it.

More worryingly, according to Mr Pahwa, Chaayos’ terms and conditions – also seen by the BBC – says that customers “should not expect that personal information should always remain private”.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHow does facial recognition technology work?

The terms also say that by joining the loyalty programme, users authorise it to “disclose information to government authorities or competent authorities or credit bureaus or third persons”.

However, in its statement, Chaayos said “there is no third party sharing of the data for any purpose. And Chaayos does not use or process this information for any other purpose”.

Mr Pahwa said his worry was that “customers are not made aware of the implications of giving out this data, so this is not informed consent.”

Mr Pahwa’s tweets about his experience picked up traction on social media, with a number of users coming forward to share their experiences at the chain, while others described similar incidents elsewhere.

Many have expressed concern.

India does not have laws governing the collection of biometric data and experts warn that this is not a phenomenon limited to Chaayos alone.

“This trend of private companies collecting vast volumes of biometric data with photos linked to user identity, phone numbers and other details is deeply worrying. Hundreds of companies collect and store biometric data, often with no visible checks and balances, and no published privacy policies. In the absence of any privacy law in India, this is extremely worrying,” technology expert Prasanto K Roy told the BBC.

“For instance DLF, one of north India’s top real-estate developers which has built and manages dozens of commercial buildings, demands that a visitor first authenticate herself using a text message (OTP) password, and then on camera-equipped tablets placed at the entrance, gets photographs taken of her face and her government-issued identity card, and sign off on the page.

“They thus have a database which has my name, face, driving license, authenticated phone number, and signature. There is no option to opt out if I want to enter one of their buildings, or to delete my information. Such databases tend to leak, be sold for considerable sums of money, and be misused.”

21st December 2019

Environment Lostwithiel 18th Century manor hit by major blaze

Environment Lostwithiel 18th Century manor hit by major blaze

Environment

environment Milltown manor house fireImage copyright
Lostwithiel Community Fire Station/Twitter

Image caption

Firefighters were withdrawn from the building in Milltown “due to risk” to them

An 18th Century manor house has been damaged by fire which left crews fearing it might collapse.

The blaze was spotted in the three-storey building in Milltown, Cornwall, at about 08:50 GMT.

Initially, three fire crews were called but nine more were sent to the scene, near Lostwithiel, at about 11:45.

After nearly nine hours it was brought under under control and there were no reports of injuries. It is understood the house was empty at the time.

Experts from the Environment Agency were called in to carry out an environmental risk assessment.

Staff from Western Power Distribution and Cornwall Council emergency management officers were also called to the scene.

The blaze spread from the first floor of the house to a roof space before it was brought under control.

Firefighters in breathing apparatus had gone into the building to try and stop that spread but had to pull back building “due to risk” to them, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service said.

Terry Nottle, of Bodmin Fire Station, said it was a “significant fire” and “we don’t get many 12-appliance fires in the county”.

Although the fire is under control, crews are due to remain at the scene until Sunday.

An investigation is to be carried out into the cause.

21st December 2019

Environment ‘Abuse on the campaign trail doesn’t shock me any more’

Environment ‘Abuse on the campaign trail doesn’t shock me any more’

Environment

environment Luke Pollard painting over graffiti outside his office

Image caption

Luke Pollard painting over graffiti outside his office

Racist slurs, rape threats, being chased with a sledgehammer – abuse of political candidates and their teams is on the rise. How do those running to be an MP cope in this toxic environment?

“I’ve been told that I’m not English enough, that I should go back to where I came from. I’ve been told that, because of the way my surname sounds, I’m a nobody.”

Before she put her name forward as the Liberal Democrat candidate in Camberwell and Peckham, south London, 33-year-old Julia Ogiehor had a difficult decision to make. Was standing up for what she believed in worth the toll on her mental health?

And sure enough, she says, she faced a torrent of abuse, some of it racist. She was told that she didn’t deserve to represent the seat, and should go and work in McDonald’s.

“I’m human too, I’ve got feelings. I don’t always have to be the strong black woman,” she says.

“I have cried on this campaign. I’ve had moments when I just couldn’t get out of bed. I just didn’t want to speak to anybody.

“I was prepared for the abuse on the right but I was dismayed, disappointed, hurt and then frightened by the abuse from Labour supporters.”

For candidates running for election across the UK, the general election wasn’t just a succession of 18-hour days, it also meant enduring an unprecedented level of personal attacks.

According to a study by the University of Sheffield, the number of abusive tweets sent to candidates – racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or in other ways offensive – was up dramatically in 2019.


Environment Find out more

The Next Episode podcast followed seven people standing for election, all of whom kept a record of the abuse they received. Download the episode here.


The researchers registered 158,000 abusive tweets, compared with 31,000 during the election period in 2017. This year 4.5% of replies to the candidates’ tweets were abusive, compared to 3.3% at the last election.

“The abuse has become normalised and it doesn’t shock me any more,” says Andrea Jenkyns, who was re-elected as Conservative MP for Morley and Outwood in West Yorkshire.

She says she has received rape and death threats since she was first elected in 2015. She came off social media for three months after a man rang her office and threatened to rip her face off.

But she says the level of abuse in the most recent general election was worse than in 2015 or 2017. This year, she says, every piece of outdoor signage put up by her campaign was defaced. One of her canvassers was even threatened with a sledgehammer.

Image caption

Julia Ogiehor campaigning in south London

The murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox in 2016 has left many candidates feeling understandably fearful. For the first time, police advised candidates not to engage with abuse online or in person, to block abusers online and to report any intimidation. This was for their own safety, they said.

Some candidates have their own rules, too – they might not go out alone, or after dark, and some carry personal alarms.

Labour’s Luke Pollard, the first openly gay MP to represent Plymouth, has his office in the centre of his constituency so it can be easily accessible to constituents. Twice during the election campaign it was vandalised with homophobic graffiti.

Image caption

Graffiti targeting Andrea Jenkyns

Pollard says that although he was keen for the building “not to look like Fort Knox”, he took security advice and had bomb-proof windows installed. The abuse, he says, “kind of eats away at you”. Like Andrea Jenkyns, he has a “file of hate” – a collection of all the abusive correspondence received in case it needs to be taken to the police.

But he tries not to let the abusers get to him as “that’s what they want.”

Charlotte Nichols, 28, who was elected for the first time in Warrington North for Labour, was so frightened by some of the messages she was sent that she called the police.

“I’ve been called things like ‘another southern Labour slag’, I’ve had stuff about how I’m a vile sewer rat, that I’m a traitor,” she says. “Probably the most sinister and hurtful one for me personally was someone who sent an anonymous letter to the local Catholic churches to let them know I’ve had an abortion.”

Image caption

Charlotte Nichols

Nichols, who converted to Judaism in 2014, also faced abuse connected with her religion. “There’s a lot of stuff saying how could I be Jewish if I was campaigning on a Saturday? And how can I be Jewish if I’m a Labour Party candidate, when the party has got issues with anti-Semitism?” One person accused of her being a “kapo” – a term that was used for Jewish people who became concentration camp guards.

Sometimes, however, it is the candidates themselves who are accused of contributing to the toxic environment. Nichols was criticised during the campaign when old tweets came to light in which she swore and told one antagonist that she hoped “you lose your virginity”.

Nichols acknowledges that, as someone who now holds public office, “I will have to react differently.”

But she refuses to apologise for tweeting that a group of Italian football fans pictured giving fascist salutes in Glasgow should “get their heads kicked in”. Her Conservative opponent in Warrington North accused her of inciting violence. She responded: “I believe fascism should be physically confronted.”

After the 2017 general election, the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life conducted an investigation into abuse of candidates. Its chairman, Lord Jonathan Evans, says that two years later some of its recommendations have yet to be implemented. He’s particularly disappointed that the parties have yet to agree to a joint code of conduct.

The current situation is deterring people from entering politics, he believes.

“This is really important to the future of our democracy,” he says. “Because if people don’t feel confident to stand, or if, as we have seen, some people stand down, then that means we are going to have a less representative and less effective democracy.” MPs have told him that they have changed their votes in parliament as a result of “intimidation”.

According to the Sheffield University researchers, first-time candidates running in areas they aren’t likely to win tend to experience more online abuse than others.

Neva Novaky, 32, says she was taken aback by the vitriol she was subjected to in her first parliamentary campaign for the Conservatives in Garston and Halewood, a safe Labour seat in Merseyside.

“What I was not expecting was the level of animosity and the way that you get a lot of anger and hate directed at you as an individual,” she says. People swore at her and told her she was a liar. One of her canvassers was threatened with a shovel, another with a hammer, she says.

But no matter how much abuse they’ve suffered, candidates still want to go out and campaign.

Julia Ogiehor says the moments when she didn’t want to get out of bed or speak to anyone always passed. They “revived me to then get back out there”, she says. “I will not stop fighting.”

The reporter on the Next Episode podcast was Molly Lynch

20th December 2019

In_pictures Rugby union world team of the decade: Who will you pick in your XV?

In_pictures Rugby union world team of the decade: Who will you pick in your XV?

In_pictures

in_pictures George North, Jamie Heaslip, Finn Russell and Maro Itoje

Who makes your team of the decade?

Three World Cups and 10 Six Nations have passed, but does any of it mean a thing if you’re not selected in a team of the decade?

South Africa started the decade as world champions and end it with the Webb Ellis Cup in their possession, with a couple of New Zealand wins in between of course.

Which of those world champions will make it into your team though?

BBC Radio 5 Live Rugby Union Weekly’s Chris Jones, Ugo Monye and Danny Care have come up with a shortlist for you to pick from and will reveal their final decision on Monday’s podcast.

Can’t see this selector? Visit this page.

All pictures via Getty Images.

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