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Rainfall affects our mood, our propensity to commit crime and how hungry we feel – but why?

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring. He bumped his head when he went to bed, and he couldn’t get up in the morning. This was possibly because in the absence of sunlight his body was still producing the hormone melatonin, which makes you sleepy. There are many ways that rainfall affects human behaviour. Why do crime levels drop when the heavens open? How much does rain really affect people’s moods and behaviour?

In 2008 university researchers published a paper proposing that weak summer monsoons were influential in the downfall of three dynasties in ancient China. By analysing stalagmites from a cave, they were able to match periods of significantly decreased rainfall with periods of social upheaval and the demise of the Tang, Yuan and Ming dynasties. This is thought to be related to reduced rice cultivation.

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New Zealand has ruled the practice illegal after mounting public pressure – but it can be a valuable and effective conservation tool

Earlier this month the New Zealand court of appeal ruled that shark cage diving is illegal, and as a result cage diving tourism will soon cease in the country.

But is a ban an appropriate course of action when shark population numbers are declining globally?

Related: Diving for Dakuwaqa: giving Fiji's shark god a helping hand

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24-year-old who reduced her medication while swimming weekly in open water was drug-and symptom-free within four months

A year ago, a 24-year-old woman with depression was given an unusual prescription by her doctor: a weekly swim in cold water.

The patient, Sarah, was filmed as part of the BBC documentary series The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, presented by Christoffer van Tulleken, a doctor and researcher at University College London.

Related: What's the ultimate way to defy depression, disease and early death? Exercise

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Scientists have the public’s trust, so the swell of fake news shouldn’t put them off communicating, says CEO of Science Media Centre

I am sorry to see Jenny Rohn penning her last piece for the Guardian’s science blog network (“I was deluded. You can’t beat fake news with science communication”). I have enjoyed her columns and often shared the links. But I cannot agree with her swan song.

Rohn uses her last post to question whether her seven years of blogging has made the slightest difference to public attitudes to science and concludes that it probably hasn’t. Her despair follows a now familiar trope in science: that in our “post-truth” society no one is listening to mild mannered science writers trading in facts and evidence. Instead the masses are in thrall to what Rohn calls the “enemy camp”, the anti-science brigade who lamentably “picked up the pen as well” and use it to peddle dangerous lies.

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Plans are being made to colonise Mars. Zahaan Bharmal unpicks the arguments against the idea

Earlier this month, a group of 60 prominent scientists and engineers met behind closed doors at the University of Boulder Colorado. Their agenda: Mars colonisation.

Organised by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and attended by members of Nasa’s Mars exploration programme, the goal of this inaugural “Mars workshop” was to begin formulating concrete plans for landing, building and sustaining a human colony on Mars within the next 40 to 100 years.

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Academics share machine-learning research freely. Taxpayers should not have to pay twice to read our findings

Budding authors face a minefield when it comes to publishing their work. For a large fee, as much as $3,000, they can make their work available to anyone who wants to read it. Or they can avoid the fee and have readers pay the publisher instead. Often it is libraries that foot this bill through expensive annual subscriptions. This is not the lot of wannabe fiction writers, it’s the business of academic publishing.

More than 200 years ago, Giuseppe Piazzi, an isolated astronomer in Palermo, Sicily, discovered a dwarf planet. For him, publishing meant writing a letter to his friend Franz von Zach. Each month von Zach collated letters from astronomers across Europe and redistributed them. No internet for these guys: they found out about the latest discoveries from leatherbound volumes of letters called Monatliche Correspondenz. The time it took to disseminate research threw up its own problems: by the time Piazzi’s data were published, the planet had vanished in the sun’s glare.

The ability to pay no longer determines the ability to play

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Michael Marshall attended the UK’s annual gathering of people who share the unshakeable belief that the Earth is flat

There was the three-hour presentation which contended that the universe is a giant egg. There was the Manchester musician who posited that the Earth is the shape of a diamond. And another who believes that the moon is a projection.

Welcome to the Flat Earth UK Convention, a raucous departure from scientific norms where people are free to believe literally anything.

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The idea that intelligence can differ between populations has made headlines again, but the rules of evolution make it implausible

The idea that there may be genetic differences in intelligence between one population and another has resurfaced recently, notably in the form of a New York Times op-ed by the Harvard geneticist David Reich. In the article, Reich emphasises the arbitrary nature of traditional racial groupings, but still argues that long periods of ancestry on separate continents have left their genetic marks on modern populations. These are most evident for physical traits like skin and hair colour, where genetic causation is entirely uncontroversial. However, Reich asserts that all genetic traits, including those that affect behaviour and cognition, are expected to differ between populations or races.

This extrapolation from the genetics of physical traits to how our brains work brings back memories of an argument made by the US researchers Charles Murray and Richard J Herrnstein in their 1994 book The Bell Curve, recently resurrected by Murray in conversations with the US neuroscientist and author Sam Harris. In the book, Murray and Herrnstein claim that observed differences in the mean IQ scores of ethnic groups are “highly likely” to be due to both environmental and genetic factors. This sounds quite reasonable at first: the argument concedes that environmental and cultural factors play a big part in any differences seen in the mean IQ scores of various groups. But it also suggests that since genetic variation will contribute to higher or lower IQ in any given population, the genetic differences between one group and another will also underpin mean differences in IQ.

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A widely reported crack in the Rift Valley was not formed by tectonic movement, but by erosion of soil from recent heavy rains

Global media outlets have been abuzz recently about a large “crack” which appeared in the Kenyan Rift Valley. Many of these news pieces have tried to get to the bottom of what caused this feature, with many reports concluding that it was evidence for the African continent actively splitting into two. However, many articles cited limited expert comment, much of which was taken out of context and was based on minimal hard evidence. Other articles fed directly off previous reports, propagating unsubstantiated rumours and losing sight of original sources.

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