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White-throated sparrows change their tune from a three note to a two note –



VANCOUVER—White-throated sparrows are changing their tune — an unprecedented development scientists say has caused them to sit up and take note.

Ken Otter, a biology professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, whose paper on the phenomenon was published on Thursday, said most bird species are slow to change their songs, preferring to stick with tried-and-true tunes to defend territories and attract females.

But the shift to this new tune went viral across Canada, travelling over 3,000 kilometres between 2000 and 2019 and wiping out a historic song ending in the process, he said.

“The song is always described as being ‘Oh My Sweet Canada Canada Canada Canada — so that Canada is three syllables. It’s a da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da sound. That’s the traditional description of the song going back into early 1900s,” Otter said in an interview Wednesday.

But now, the song has changed.

“The doublet sounds like Oh My Sweet Cana-Cana-Cana-da. They are stuttering and repeating the first two syllables and they are doing it very rapidly. It sounds very different.”

From British Columbia to central Ontario, these native birds have ditched their traditional three-note-ending song for a two-note-ending variant, he said, adding researchers still don’t know what has made the new tune so compelling.

Otter drew a comparison to people picking up the accent, phrases and pneumonics of a new area they move into.

“This is actually the opposite,” he said.

Male sparrows are showing up singing atypical songs but then others are starting to adopt that, and over time the dialect is actually changing within that site to the new type and replacing the old tune, he said.

“So it’s like somebody from Australia arriving in Toronto and people saying, ‘hey, that sounds really cool,’ mimicking an Australian accent and then after 10 years everybody in Toronto has an Australian accent,” he said.

“That’s why, at least within the scientific community, it’s getting so much interest. It is completely atypical to what you would predict around all the theories that you have about dialects.”

Otter and a team of citizen scientists have found that the new tune is not just more popular west of the Rocky Mountains, but was also spreading rapidly across Canada.

“Originally, we measured the dialect boundaries in 2004 and it stopped about halfway through Alberta,” he said in a news release.

“By 2014, every bird we recorded in Alberta was singing this western dialect, and we started to see it appearing in populations as far away as Ontario, which is 3,000 kilometres from us.”

The scientists predicted that the sparrows’ overwintering grounds were playing a role in the rapid spread of the two-note ending, he said.

Scientists believed that juvenile males may be able to pick up new song types if they overwinter with birds from other dialect areas, and take them to new locations when they return to breeding grounds, which could explain the spread, he said.

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So they fitted the birds with geolocators — what Otter called “tiny backpacks” — to see if western sparrows that knew the new song might share overwintering grounds with eastern populations that would later adopt it.

“They found that they did,” he said in the release.

Otter said he does not know what has caused the change, and his team found that the new song didn’t give male birds a territorial advantage over others.

“In many previous studies, the females tend to prefer whatever the local song type is,” he said.

“But in white-throated sparrows, we might find a situation in which the females actually like songs that aren’t typical in their environment. If that’s the case, there’s a big advantage to any male who can sing a new song type.”

The new song can be chalked up to evolution, he said in the interview.

Otter said he prefers the two-note song because it sounds smoother.

“But I’m not a sparrow so it doesn’t really matter which one I prefer,” he said with a laugh.

But the tune may be continuing to change, he said adding scientists were supposed to study it this year but COVID-19 has put a damper on the field season.

“The two note is not the be all and end all because in the last five years we noticed a male that was singing something slightly different than the standard two note doublet song,” Otter said.

“And when we recorded it we noticed he was modifying the amplitude of the first note. And more of them are doing it now. We could be seeing waves of these things that we just never noticed before.”

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Ontario doctor subject of complaints after COVID-19 tweets –



Ontario doctor Kulvinder Kaur Gill has been criticized by fellow physicians and others after a series of tweets that they say spread misinformation about COVID-19.

CBC has reviewed two email complaints about Gill’s tweets, including one by a family doctor to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which sets regulatory standards for doctors in the province.

One of her tweets, from Aug. 6, stated: “#Humanity’s existing effective defences against #COVID19 to safely return to normal life now includes: -Truth, -T-cell Immunity, -Hydroxychloroquine.”

That tweet has since been taken down for violating Twitter’s rules. Twitter doesn’t confirm what rules a specific tweet may have violated when it has been taken down. Many doctors also replied critically to Gill’s tweet.

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to treat malaria and it has been touted by U.S. President Donald Trump as a potential fix for COVID-19. However, the drug has been shown to be ineffective in combating the virus, according to a major study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Medical bodies like the Canadian Pediatric Society say hydroxychloroquine has no significant benefit in fighting COVID-19. Health Canada has not authorized any drugs to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 and has warned Canadians about products making false and misleading claims. It says hydroxychloroquine can have serious side effects.

On Aug. 4, Gill tweeted “If you have not yet figured out that we don’t need a vaccine, you aren’t paying attention,” adding the hashtag #FactsNotFear. Gill identifies herself as Kulvinder Kaur on her Twitter profile.

Another of Gill’s tweets on the same day states, “There is absolutely no medical or scientific reason for this prolonged, harmful, and illogical lockdown.”

A screenshot of some of Kulvinder Kaur Gill’s recent tweets, including a tweet that promotes hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. (Kulvinder Kaur Gill/Twitter)

Gill operates a clinic in Brampton, Ont., and she has over 22,000 followers on Twitter. She is also the president and cofounder of Concerned Ontario Doctors, a self-described grassroots group which has been critical of the Ontario Medical Association, the organization that represents 34,000 of the province’s doctors. All practicing physicians in the province are legally mandated to pay dues to the OMA, though they do not have to be members of the group. The Concerned Doctors of Ontario did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Gill and others have said the OMA attempts to muzzle doctors, and it refuses to be financially transparent and accountable to its members.

According to the CPSO, Gill’s specialty is pediatrics. 

Dr. Gill did not respond to CBC News’s multiple requests for comment. On Twitter she said,”There are always opposing views in medicine—historically many have led to some of the most significant medical advances.” 

“In a democratic society: there must always be open, constructive, public debate. Voices of Physicians & Scientists must never be attacked, censored or silenced.”

Gill has also retweeted another doctor, Simone Gold, who claimed there was a financial incentive to discredit hydroxychloroquine as a treatment. Gold’s tweet was taken down for violating Twitter rules, but not Gill’s retweet. 

Gold was one of the doctors in a 40-minute long video that went viral at the end of July, which promoted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. At least 17 million people saw one version of the video, though both Facebook and Twitter removed copies from their platforms.

Twitter temporarily suspended the account of Donald Trump Jr. for posting the video until he deleted the tweet. 

Hydroxychloroquine, pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump and other U.S. conservatives in recent months as a possible treatment for people infected with the coronavirus, is displayed by a pharmacist in Provo, Utah on May 27. Studies shown the drug to be ineffective for treating COVID-19. (George Frey/Reuters)

‘This is a threat to me in my practice’

Alex Nataros, one of the people who filed a complaint with the CPSO, is a family doctor in Comox, B.C. He disagrees with Gill’s opinions.

“This is a threat to me in my practice and my professional integrity here in British Columbia,” he said of Gill’s tweets on hydroxychloroquine. “It’s a threat to my 1,500 patients to have a Canadian licensed physician promoting misinformation that is harmful.” 

He said many of his patients are older and may already have health issues, and he spends a lot of time re-educating his patients about the pandemic.

“I spent too much of my time every day debunking what they’ve read on Facebook or read on Twitter or in Instagram,” he said.

Nataros’ views are echoed by Dr. Michelle Cohen, a family doctor in Brighton, Ont.

“She is promoting some misinformation that’s quite dangerous, especially considering that we are in the middle of a public health crisis,” said Dr. Cohen, who tweeted her concern at the CPSO, though she did not file a formal complaint.

Cohen said that Gill’s tweets are setting the stage for people to reject a vaccine that could be very helpful.

WATCH | Hydroxychloroquine trials halted, researchers focus on other COVID-19 treatments:

The WHO has suspended trials of hydroxychloroquine, the once touted COVID-19 treatment, because it doesn’t work and researchers are turning their focus to other promising treatments and the ongoing race for a vaccine. 1:56

Gill says she is being ‘defamed’

In an email to CBC News, the CPSO said it doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations.

“It’s important that physicians recognize the influence they may have on social media, particularly when it comes to public health. The CPSO believes questioning the value of vaccinations or countering public health best practices during COVID-19 represents a risk to the public and is not acceptable behaviour,” wrote a spokesperson for the CPSO.

“Physicians who are found to be spreading misleading medical information that may bring harm towards patients can face practice restrictions or suspension for their actions.”

On Sunday, Dr. Gill tweeted that she “will not abide being defamed” and has retained legal counsel. 

She also said, “#Groupthink is dangerous. Well-intentioned people make irrational or detrimental decisions spurred by urge to conform or the belief that dissent is impossible.”

“It is often fuelled by a cult of personality ahead of critical thinking and dissent is silenced with threat of reprisals,” she wrote.

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Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks As Waning Moon Meets Venus: What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week – Forbes



Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy and eclipses. 

What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: August 10-16, 2020

Are you ready to go “shooting star”-spotting? Active since July 17, the Perseid meteor shower can bring as many as 100 “shooting stars” per hour on its peak night. In 2020, that’s Tuesday, August 11 into Wednesday, August 12. 

That’s just the beginning of a great week for stargazing. As the week wears on it becomes one of the best weeks of the year to see the Milky Way in the run-up to August 19’s New Moon. From August 12 the Moon will be rising after midnight, giving you a few hours of dark skies just as the brightest part of our galaxy is arcing overhead. 

With two of summer’s celestial treats in the same week, and some great views of Venus and the Moon to boot, a sparkling seven days of stargazing awaits!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020: Perseid meteor shower peaks

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Easily the most popular meteor shower of the year in the northern hemisphere, tonight is one of the best nights of the year to see “shooting stars.” It’s caused by dust and debris left in Earth’s orbital path by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which last entered the Solar System in 1992 and is due back in July 2126. 

The Perseids can number as many as 100 per hour. Will you see that many? A rising Last Quarter Moon about midnight is going to bleach-out some of the brighter meteors, but there should still be plenty for patient eyes to spot. 

Be outside before midnight. As well as some early “earthgrazers”—long-lasting shooting stars close to the eastern and western horizons—if you’re in a dark place away from light pollution you may also see the Milky Way arcing overhead in the south. 

After midnight, to find shooting stars look at any part of the night sky, and keep looking! However, you’ll need clear skies; if it’s cloudy, you’re not going to see anything.

It’s also worth looking for Perseid meteors on Wednesday, August 12 into Thursday, August 13, and even the night after that. If there’s a clear sky this week, get outside and look up.

Wednesday, August 12 – Saturday, August 22: See the Milky Way

Did you manage to sneak a peak at our galaxy while out watching for Perseids?

The center of our galaxy looks spectacular in August, but the Milky Way is at its best when the Moon is down. That’s from tonight through August 19’s New Moon.

Look generally south, preferably while observing from somewhere away from light pollution and, crucially, somewhere where your view to the southern horizon isn’t going to have the glow from any town or city. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020: Venus as a ‘Morning Star’ and Aldebaran close to the Moon

If you enjoyed seeing Venus dominate as an “Evening Star” for the first half of 2020, now is the best time to appreciate how much it’s now dominating as a pre-dawn “Morning Star.”

Always the brightest object in the night sky aside from the Moon, Venus today reaches its greatest elongation west. 

That means it seems, from our point of view one Earth, to be furthest from the Sun in its current morning apparition, so it appears at its highest point in the pre-dawn night sky. Look above the eastern horizon about three hours before sunrise.

At 45.8° west of the Sun, it’s the highest in the night sky Venus will get during 2020. 

If you’re up early enough to see Venus, do have a look for bright star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, which will be a mere 4° from a 34% illuminated Moon. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020: conjunction of a crescent Moon and Venus

This morning Venus will still be rising about three hours before the Sun, together with an 18%-lit crescent Moon (see above) that will seem closer to it the nearer it gets to sunrise.

Constellation of the week: Orion

Look to the east and, if you’re up earlier enough, you can also indulge in some good views of the winter constellations. 

Most notably you’ll see the famous cold weather constellation of Orion rising on its side. Its bright stars, ruddy Betelgeuse and true blue Rigel, should both be just about visible. Between them will the Belt; above will be the constellation of Taurus and bright red star Aldebaran.

Further proof that although the stars change with the seasons, if you get up early enough you can cheat the system! 

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes. 

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NASA’s InSight lander shows what’s beneath Mars’ surface – Digital Trends



Scientists are learning more about the interior structure of Mars and have found the depths of three boundaries beneath the planet’s surface. “Ultimately it may help us understand planetary formation,” Alan Levander, co-author of the study said in a statement.

This is the first time that these boundaries have been measured directly. Investigating the planet’s interior is complicated because it doesn’t have tectonic plates like Earth does.

“In the absence of plate tectonics on Mars, its early history is mostly preserved compared with Earth,” co-author Sizhuang Deng said in the statement. “The depth estimates of Martian seismic boundaries can provide indications to better understand its past as well as the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets in general.”


The data was collected using NASA’s InSight lander, which uses an instrument called a seismometer to measure vibrations coming from within Mars. It detects marsquakes, in which seismic waves pass through the planet, which can be used to infer details about the density and the composition of the planet beneath the surface.

“The traditional way to investigate structures beneath Earth is to analyze earthquake signals using dense networks of seismic stations,” Deng said in the statement. “Mars is much less tectonically active, which means it will have far fewer marsquake events compared with Earth. Moreover, with only one seismic station on Mars, we cannot employ methods that rely on seismic networks.”

An artist’s impression of Mars’ inner structure. The topmost layer is the crust, and beneath it is the mantle, which rests on a solid inner core.
An artist’s impression of Mars’ inner structure. The topmost layer is the crust, and beneath it is the mantle, which rests on a solid inner core. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The team found three boundaries within the inner structure of Mars: A divide between the crust and the mantle, located 22 miles beneath the surface, a transition within the mantle from an area where magnesium iron silicates form a mineral called olivine to one where they form wadsleyite, which is found between 690 miles and 727 miles beneath the surface, and the divide between the mantel and the core, which is located between 945 miles and 994 miles beneath the surface.

This information reveals more not only about how the planet exists now, but could also be used to investigate how Mars developed over time.

The findings are published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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