Universities deplore McCarthyism as MP demands list of tutors lecturing on Brexit

Tory whip writes to every vice-chancellor to ask for syllabus and any online material

Academics are accusing a Tory MP and government whip of McCarthyite behaviour, after he wrote to all universities asking them to declare what they are teaching their students about Brexit and to provide a list of teachers names.

Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative MP for Daventry and a staunch Eurosceptic, wrote to vice-chancellors at the start of this month asking for the names of any professors involved in teaching European affairs with particular reference to Brexit. Neatly ignoring the long tradition of academic freedom that universities consider crucial to their success, his letter asks for a copy of each universitys syllabus and any online lectures on Brexit.

Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, felt a chill down his spine when he read the sinister request: This letter just asking for information appears so innocent but is really so, so dangerous, he says. Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor and newspeak, naturally justified as the will of the British people, a phrase to be found on Mr Heaton-Harriss website. Green will be replying to the MP but not be providing the information requested.

MP's
Heaton-Harriss letter

Prof Kevin Featherstone, head of the European Institute at the LSE, is also outraged: The letter reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature. It smacks of asking: are you or have you ever been in favour of remain? There is clearly an implied threat that universities will somehow be challenged for their bias. Featherstone says LSE academics had already feared Brexit censorship after the Electoral Commission made inquiries during last years referendum campaign about academics debates and research, following a complaint by Bernard Jenkin, another Tory MP. Jenkin filed a complaint when the LSE hosted an event at which the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said there was no upside for the UK in Brexit. Jenkin, a board member of the Vote Leave campaign, also accused the LSEs Centre for Economic Performance of producing partisan research designed to convince the public to stay in the EU. The commission, whose job is to ensure fair campaigning, investigated and took no action against the university.

A spokesman for the LSE strenuously denies all allegations of political bias. The freedom for academics to study the major issues facing society, reach their own conclusions, and engage in public debate is essential for the health of our universities and the UKs world-leading research base, he says.

Featherstone says: I understand the LSE received calls from the Electoral Commission asking about speakers and the costs of events on an almost daily basis throughout the campaign period. He argues that both Heaton-Harriss letter and the Electoral Commissions investigation pose a threat to the role of universities as free intellectual spaces where academics can explore and question ideas without political interference. He says both developments risk plunging universities into dangerous new political waters.

The Electoral Commission says universities have nothing to fear from its inquiries. We produce guidance to help all non-party campaigners understand the rules on campaigning and we can advise universities in cases where they may be affected. These do not prevent campaigning or engagement in public debate, but provide the public with transparency about who is spending what in order to influence their vote.

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Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University: Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor. Photograph: James Watkins

More than 80% of academics voted to remain, according to a YouGov survey [pdf] commissioned by the University and College Union in January. And within university departments focusing on European affairs, Brexiters are a rarity.

However, university experts on Brexit insist their personal views do not jaundice their teaching, and students are encouraged to question received assumptions and look at issues from all sides.

Julie Smith, director of the European Centre in the politics and international studies department at Cambridge University, says she told a lecture full of graduates about Heaton-Harriss letter last week. I told the students what my personal views were and emphasised that they were personal views. I voted to remain, but as an academic, my job is to impart knowledge, encourage debate and develop skills of analytical argument, not to impose doctrine.

Smith, who is also a Liberal Democrat peer, adds: If it is the case that a politician thinks he should interfere in the content of what universities are teaching and look at syllabi in order to see whether the correct line is being delivered, that is profoundly worrying.

Prof Piet Eeckhout, academic director of University College Londons European Institute, says it is unsurprising if most academics working on Europe are in favour of the EU. I have been teaching EU law for the last 25 years. The fact that I am sufficiently interested to spend all my days working on it obviously means I think EU law is a good thing.

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Prof Kevin Featherstone, director of the European Institute at the LSE: The letter reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature

Pro-Brexit academics working in this area are also unhappy with the MPs behaviour. Lee Jones, reader in international politics at Queen Mary University of London, is one of the few openly pro-Brexit academics in his field. During the referendum campaign I said what I wanted and no one tried to shut me up, but I know colleagues elsewhere who have been blanked in the corridors because they voted to leave.

Yet Jones, too, is outraged by Heaton-Harriss investigation. It is really troubling that an MP thinks it is within his remit to start poking his nose into university teaching, he says. Universities are autonomous and politicians have no right to intimidate academics by scrutinising their courses. I have colleagues who are die-hard remainers. But I know what they teach and it is not propaganda.

Chris Bickerton, reader in modern European politics at Cambridge University, and a fellow leave voter agrees. He adds: In my institution there is strong support for academic freedom. I applied for promotion after the referendum and never did I worry that my views on Brexit would affect the results or my promotional prospects. Nor did I feel any institutional pressure to think one way or the other in the runup to the vote itself.

Heaton-Harris did not respond to requests for a comment.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/24/universities-mccarthyism-mp-demands-list-brexit-chris-heaton-harris

Goodbye and good riddance to livestock farming | George Monbiot

As the artificial meat industry grows, the last argument for farming animals has now collapsed, writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot

What will future generations, looking back on our age, see as its monstrosities? We think of slavery, the subjugation of women, judicial torture, the murder of heretics, imperial conquest and genocide, the first world war and the rise of fascism, and ask ourselves how people could have failed to see the horror of what they did. What madness of our times will revolt our descendants?

There are plenty to choose from. But one of them, I believe, will be the mass incarceration of animals, to enable us to eat their flesh or eggs or drink their milk. While we call ourselves animal lovers, and lavish kindness on our dogs and cats, we inflict brutal deprivations on billions of animals that are just as capable of suffering. The hypocrisy is so rank that future generations will marvel at how we could have failed to see it.

The shift will occur with the advent of cheap artificial meat. Technological change has often helped to catalyse ethical change. The $300m deal China signed last month to buy lab-grown meat marks the beginning of the end of livestock farming. But it wont happen quickly: the great suffering is likely to continue for many years.

The answer, we are told by celebrity chefs and food writers, is to keep livestock outdoors: eat free-range beef or lamb, not battery pork. But all this does is to swap one disaster mass cruelty for another: mass destruction. Almost all forms of animal farming cause environmental damage, but none more so than keeping them outdoors. The reason is inefficiency. Grazing is not just slightly inefficient, it is stupendously wasteful. Roughly twice as much of the worlds surface is used for grazing as for growing crops, yet animals fed entirely on pasture produce just one gram out of the 81g of protein consumed per personper day.

A paper in Science of the Total Environment reports that livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss. Grazing livestock are a fully automated system for ecological destruction: you need only release them on to the land and they do the rest, browsing out tree seedlings, simplifying complex ecosystems. Their keepers augment this assault by slaughtering large predators.

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Sheep supply around 1% of our diet in terms of calories. Yet they occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

In the UK, for example, sheep supply around 1% of our diet in terms of calories. Yet they occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands. This is more or less equivalent to all the land under crops in this country, and more than twice the area of the built environment (1.7m hectares). The rich mosaic of rainforest and other habitats that once covered our hills has been erased, the wildlife reduced to a handful of hardy species. The damage caused is out of all proportion to the meat produced.

Replacing the meat in our diets with soya spectacularly reduces the land area required per kilo of protein: by 70% in the case of chicken, 89% in the case of pork and 97% in the case of beef. One study suggests that if we were all to switch to a plant-based diet, 15mhectares of land in Britain currently used for farming could be returned to nature. Alternatively, this country could feed 200 million people. An end to animal farming would be the salvation of the worlds wildlife, our natural wonders and magnificent habitats.

Understandably, those who keep animals have pushed back against such facts, using an ingenious argument. Livestock grazing, they claim, can suck carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil, reducing or even reversing global warming. In a TED talk watched by 4 million people, the rancher Allan Savory claims that his holistic grazing could absorb enough carbon to return the worlds atmosphere to pre-industrial levels. His inability, when I interviewed him, to substantiate his claims has done nothing to dent their popularity.

Similar statements have been made by Graham Harvey, the agricultural story editor of the BBC Radio 4 serial The Archers he claims that the prairies in the US could absorb all the carbon thats gone into the atmosphere for the whole planet since we industrialised and amplified by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Farmers organisations all over the world now noisily promote this view.

A report this week by the Food Climate Research Network, called Grazed and Confused, seeks to resolve the question: can keeping livestock outdoors cause a net reduction in greenhouse gases? The authors spent two years investigating the issue. They cite 300 sources. Their answer is unequivocal. No.

It is true, they find, that some grazing systems are better than others. Under some circumstances, plants growing on pastures will accumulate carbon under the ground, through the expansion of their root systems and the laying down of leaf litter. But the claims of people such as Savory and Harvey are dangerously misleading. The evidence supporting additional carbon storage through the special systems these livestock crusaders propose (variously described as holistic, regenerative, mob, or adaptive grazing) is weak and contradictory, and suggests that if theres an effect at all, it is small.

The best that can be done is to remove between 20% and 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions grazing livestock produce. Even this might be an overestimate: a paper published this week in the journal Carbon Balance and Management suggests that the amount of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) farm animals produce has been understated. In either case, carbon storage in pastures cannot compensate for the animals own climate impacts, let alone those of industrial civilisation. I would like to see the TED team post a warning on Savorys video, before even more people are misled.

As the final argument crumbles, we are left facing an uncomfortable fact: animal farming looks as incompatible with a sustained future for humans and other species as mining coal.

That vast expanse of pastureland, from which we obtain so little at such great environmental cost, would be better used for rewilding: the mass restoration of nature. Not only would this help to reverse the catastrophic decline in habitats and the diversity and abundance of wildlife, but the returning forests, wetlands and savannahs are likely to absorb far more carbon than even the most sophisticated forms of grazing.

The end of animal farming might be hard to swallow. But we are a resilient and adaptable species. We have undergone a series of astonishing changes: the adoption of sedentarism, of agriculture, of cities, of industry.

Now it is time for a new revolution, almost as profound as those other great shifts: the switch to a plant-based diet. The technology is depending on how close an approximation to meat you demand (Quorn seems almost indistinguishable from chicken or mince to me) either here or just around the corner. The ethical switch is happening already: even today, there are half a million vegans in the land of roast beef. Its time to abandon the excuses, the fake facts and false comforts. It is time to see our moral choices as our descendants will.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/04/livestock-farming-artificial-meat-industry-animals

Vast animal-feed crops to satisfy our meat needs are destroying planet

WWF report finds 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to meat-based diets which put huge strain on Earths resources

The ongoing global appetite for meat is having a devastating impact on the environment driven by the production of crop-based feed for animals, a new report has warned.

The vast scale of growing crops such as soy to rear chickens, pigs and other animals puts an enormous strain on natural resources leading to the wide-scale loss of land and species, according to the study from the conservation charity WWF.

Intensive and industrial animal farming also results in less nutritious food, it reveals, highlighting that six intensively reared chickens today have the same amount of omega-3 as found in just one chicken in the 1970s.

The study entitled Appetite for Destruction launches on Thursday at the 2017 Extinction and Livestock Conference in London, in conjunction with Compassion in World Farming (CIFW), and warns of the vast amount of land needed to grow the crops used for animal feed and cites some of the worlds most vulnerable areas such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and the Himalayas.

The report and conference come against a backdrop of alarming revelations of industrial farming. Last week a Guardian/ITV investigation showed chicken factory staff in the UK changing crucial food safety information.

Protein-rich soy is now produced in such huge quantities that the average European consumes approximately 61kg each year, largely indirectly by eating animal products such as chicken, pork, salmon, cheese, milk and eggs.

In 2010, the British livestock industry needed an area the size of Yorkshire to produce the soy used in feed. But if global demand for meat grows as expected, the report says, soy production would need to increase by nearly 80% by 2050.

The world is consuming more animal protein than it needs and this is having a devastating effect on wildlife, said Duncan Williamson, WWF food policy manager. A staggering 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to the food we eat. We know a lot of people are aware that a meat-based diet has an impact on water and land, as well as causing greenhouse gas emissions, but few know the biggest issue of all comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat.

With 23bn chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and guinea fowl on the planet more than three per person the biggest user of crop-based feed globally is poultry. The second largest, with 30% of the worlds feed in 2009, is the pig industry.

In the UK, pork is the second favourite meat after chicken, with each person eating on average 25kg a year in 2015 nearly the whole recommended yearly intake for all meats. UK nutritional guidelines recommend 45-55g of protein per day, but the average UK consumption is 64-88g, of which 37% is meat and meat products.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/05/vast-animal-feed-crops-meat-needs-destroying-planet

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Exclusive: Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agencys headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that its having on wildlife, to be concerned, said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. If its impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that its not going to somehow impact us?

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A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

A separate small study in the Republic of Ireland released in June also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples. We dont know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are, said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour. If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we cant measure, she said. Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying. The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

Plastic fibres found in tap water across the world

Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release. His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in peoples homes.

This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at Kings College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation. Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

The new research tested 159 samples using a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

How microplastics end up in drinking water is for now a mystery, but the atmosphere is one obvious source, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air.

We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs, said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Creteil, who did the Paris studies. What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.

Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent study finding that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 fibres into the environment. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one, said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

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This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said: There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

Almost 300m tonnes of plastic is produced each year and, with just 20% recycled or incinerated, much of it ends up littering the air, land and sea. A report in July found 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, with the researchers warning that plastic waste has become ubiquitous in the environment.

We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late, said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

Mahon said the new tap water analyses raise a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts.

She said plastics are very useful, but that management of the waste must be drastically improved: We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

Terry Pratchett’s unfinished novels destroyed by steamroller

Unpublished works are lost for ever with crushing of computer hard drive as the late fantasy novelist had instructed

The unfinished books of Sir Terry Pratchett have been destroyed by a steamroller, following the late fantasy novelists wishes.

Pratchetts hard drive was crushed by a vintage John Fowler & Co steamroller named Lord Jericho at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, ahead of the opening of a new exhibition about the authors life and work.

Pratchett, famous for his colourful and satirical Discworld series, died in March 2015 after a long battle with Alzheimers disease.

After his death, fellow fantasy author Neil Gaiman, Pratchetts close friend and collaborator , told the Times that Pratchett had wanted whatever he was working on at the time of his death to be taken out along with his computers, to be put in the middle of a road and for a steamroller to steamroll over them all.

On Friday, Rob Wilkins, who manages the Pratchett estate, tweeted from an official Twitter account that he was about to fulfil my obligation to Terry along with a picture of an intact computer hard drive following up with a tweet that showed the hard drive in pieces.

The symbolism of the moment, which captured something of Pratchetts unique sense of humour, was not lost on fans, who responded on Twitter with a wry melancholy, though some people expressed surprise that the author who had previously discussed churning through computer hardware at a rapid rate would have stored his unfinished work on an apparently older model of hard drive.

The hard drive will go on display as part of a major exhibition about the authors life and work, Terry Pratchett: HisWorld, which opens at the Salisbury museum in September.

The author of over 70 novels, Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease in 2007.

He became an advocate for assisted dying, giving a moving lecture on the subject, Shaking Hands With Death, in 2010, and presenting a documentary for the BBC called Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die.

He continued to write and publish, increasingly with the assistance of others, until his death in 2015. Two novels were published posthumously: The Long Utopia (a collaboration with Stephen Baxter) and The Shepherds Crown, the final Discworld novel.

The Salisbury museum exhibition will run from 16 September until 13 January 2018.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/30/terry-pratchett-unfinished-novels-destroyed-streamroller

Teenage boys wear skirts to school to protest against ‘no shorts’ policy

Dozens of pupils at Isca academy in Exeter stage uniform protest after school insists they wear trousers despite heatwave

Some had borrowed from girlfriends, others from sisters. A few had gone the extra mile and shaved their legs. When the Isca academy in Devon opened on Thursday morning, an estimated 30 boys arrived for lessons, heads held high, in fetching tartan-patterned skirts. The hottest June days since 1976 had led to a bare-legged revolution at the secondary school in Exeter.

As the temperature soared past 30C earlier this week, the teenage boys had asked their teachers if they could swap their long trousers for shorts. They were told no shorts werent permitted under the schools uniform policy.

When they protested that the girls were allowed bare legs, the school no doubt joking said the boys were free to wear skirts too if they chose. So on Wednesday, a handful braved the giggles and did so. The scale of the rebellion increased on Thurday, when at least 30 boys opted for the attire.

Quite refreshing was how one of the boys described the experience, pointing out that if even Royal Ascot had allowed racegoers in the royal enclosure to remove their jackets, then the school ought to relax its dress code. Another said he rather enjoyed the nice breeze his skirt had afforded him.

A third, tall boy said he was told his short skirt exposed too much hairy leg. Some of the boys visited a shop on their way to Isca the name the Romans gave to Exeter to pick up razors to make sure they did not fall foul of any beauty police.

Ironically, the temperature had dropped in Exeter to a more manageable 20C, but some boys said they had enjoyed the freedom afforded by the skirts and that they might continue.

The school said it was prepared to think again in the long term. The headteacher, Aimee Mitchell, said: We recognise that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible.

Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys, and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families. However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future.

It was too late. The revolution was picked up by media organisations across the globe, and Devon county council was forced to help the school out with inquiries. A spokesperson said: About 30 boys arrived at school this morning wearing school skirts. None of the boys have been penalised no one was put in isolation or detention for wearing a skirt.

The mother of one of the boys who began the protest said she was proud of him. Claire Lambeth, 43, said her son Ryan, 15, had come home earlier in the week complaining about the heat. He said it was unbearable. I spoke to a teacher to ask about shorts and she said it was school policy [that they could not be worn]. I did say this was exceptional weather, but they were having none of it. If girls can wear skirts, why cant boys wear shorts?

Ryan came up with the idea of wearing a skirt, so that evening we borrowed one. He wore it the next day as did five other boys. Then this morning I didnt expect it to take off like that. The school is being silly really this is exceptional weather. I was very proud of Ryan. I think it was a great idea.

Another mother said: My 14-year-old son wanted to wear shorts. The headteacher told them: Well, you can wear a skirt if you like but I think she was being sarcastic. However, children tend to take you literally, and because she told them it was OK, there was nothing she could do as long as they were school skirts.

A third mother said: Children also dont like injustice. The boys see the female teachers in sandals and nice cool skirts and tops while they are wearing long trousers and shoes and the older boys have to wear blazers. They just think its unfair that they cant wear shorts in this heat.

There were signs that the revolution might be spreading. The Guardian has heard of at least one more school in Wiltshire where one boy turned up in a skirt, although it did not go down quite so well with his friends.

And schoolboys were not the only ones making controversial dress choices because of the heat. Michael Wood, who works as a porter at Watford general hospital, claimed he was facing disciplinary action from his employers Medirest for rolling his trousers up to try to cool down. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment on the case, but said: The health and safety of our colleagues is always our number one priority.

What happened to summer school uniforms? Matthew Easter, managing director of the schoolwear supplier Trutex, said they had become less popular for reasons of economy. Its really up to the individual school to decide, but the headteacher is in a difficult position. A decade or so ago, summer wear was more popular, but theres been a change recently to try to make uniforms as economical as possible. Summer uniforms are only worn for a matter of weeks.

If parents havent bought uniform shorts, then some children may feel disadvantaged, so perhaps the decision in this case is simply down to fairness.

It may be that the weather will solve the problem for the school. The Exeter-based Met Office situated up the road from the school predicts pleasant, but not searing, temperatures over the coming week.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jun/22/teenage-boys-wear-skirts-to-school-protest-no-shorts-uniform-policy

Stop children bingeing on social media during holidays, parents urged

Childrens commissioner says too much time is spent online as she launches five a day campaign

The childrens commissioner has warned parents that they must intervene to stop their children overusing social media and consuming time online like junk food.

As web use reaches record highs among children, Anne Longfield has attacked the new methods social media giants are using to draw them into spending more time staring at tablets and smartphones. In an interview with the Observer, she said that parents should step up and be proactive in stopping their children from bingeing on the internet during the summer holidays.

Launching a campaign to help parents to regulate their childrens internet use, she said time online should be balanced in the same way that parents regulate their childrens diets. Its something that every parent will talk about especially during school holidays that children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties, and their online time like junk food, she said.

None of us as parents would want our children to eat junk food all the time double cheeseburger, chips, every day, every meal. For those same reasons we shouldnt want our children to do the same with their online time.

When phones, social media and games make us feel worried, stressed and out of control, it means we havent got the balance right. With your diet, you know that, because you dont feel that good. Its the same with social media.

Her warning comes after a report said that children in all age groups are spending ever-longer periods online. The internet overtook television as the top media pastime for British children last year, according to the media regulator Ofcom. Children aged five to 15 are spending 15 hours a week online.

Last year the time three- and four-year-olds spent online increased from six hours 48 minutes to eight hours 18 minutes a week, while 12- to 15-year-olds now spend more than 20 hours online.

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Facebook Photograph: Thomas White/Reuters

Longfield said children should be helped to understand that sites encourage them to click on another game or video based on what they had just played. She had been pressuring Facebook to make it easier for children to report things they are worried about or switch off certain features.

She also criticised a feature on Snapchat, known as the Snapstreak, that she said encouraged children to increase their internet use. A streak is created when friends share photos over three consecutive days, but it is destroyed if a day is missed. Longfield compared the feature to a chain letter.

You find children saying to parents that they have 30 people that they have to do every day and if they dont, they drop the streak, and everyone will see, she said. And then does that mean they dont like me any more? Its almost like chain letters. There are children who say they cant not be online, and I think thats really worrying.

I want Facebook and all the other social media companies to be as proactive as they can about creating a good place and a safe place for kids to be. At the same time I want them to stop using the algorithms and the targeting that get kids addicted all those things that we know can be very stressful and very destructive. However, it doesnt mean that parents themselves can step aside and wait for that to happen.

Longfield said it was not helpful to recommend an absolute time limit on how long children should be online. Instead, she is announcing a digital five-a-day campaign, designed to advise parents and children on a healthy online diet. Rather than switching off the wifi, parents should help children to use their internet time to learn new skills, interact positively with friends and be creative.

Were not saying its parents fault, or that they should tell their children what to do, because ultimately this is part of life. All of those kids will have grown up with that being the normality. But we do think there is a role here for parents to step up, to stop waiting for others to come up with the solution, be that government or [social media] companies. We want [children] to feel informed, confident and empowered, and have the confidence to say, no, Im not going to do that. That same confidence we want for children, we want for parents, too.

She said Facebook and other social media giants are not coming forward at quite the speed I would like them to on making it easier to protect children.

There is so much more they could do, she said. These are clever, clever people, who know their industry well, their tech abilities well. They can do things if they want that I dont even know exist, and there are some very good examples of them using their expertise, for example by spotting people who have suicidal tendencies. But they are not doing [enough] yet.

Snapchat and Facebook declined to comment.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/aug/05/children-bingeing-social-media-anne-longfield-childrens-commissioner

Rule that patients must finish antibiotics course is wrong, study says

Experts suggest patients should stop taking the drugs when they feel better rather than completing their prescription

Telling patients to stop taking antibiotics when they feel better may be preferable to instructing them to finish the course, according to a group of experts who argue that the rule long embedded in the minds of doctors and the public is wrong and should be overturned.

Patients have traditionally been told that they must complete courses of antibiotics, the theory being that taking too few tablets will allow the bacteria causing their disease to mutate and become resistant to the drug.

But Martin Llewelyn, a professor in infectious diseases at Brighton and Sussex medical school, and colleagues claim that this is not the case. In an analysis in the British Medical Journal, the experts say the idea that stopping antibiotic treatment early encourages antibiotic resistance is not supported by evidence, while taking antibiotics for longer than necessary increases the risk of resistance.

There are some diseases where the bug can become resistant if the drugs are not taken for long enough. The most obvious example is tuberculosis, they say. But most of the bacteria that cause people to become ill are found on everybodys hands in the community, causing no harm, such as E coli and Staphylococcus aureus. People fall ill only when the bug gets into the bloodstream or the gut. The longer such bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the more likely it is that resistance will develop.

The experts say there has been too little research into the ideal length of a course of antibiotics, which also varies from one individual to the next, depending in part on what antibiotics they have taken in the past.

In hospital, patients can be tested to work out when to stop the drugs. Outside hospital, where repeated testing may not be feasible, patients might be best advised to stop treatment when they feel better, they say. That, they add, is in direct contravention of World Health Organisation advice.

Other experts in infectious diseases backed the group. I have always thought it to be illogical to say that stopping antibiotic treatment early promotes the emergence of drug-resistant organisms, said Peter Openshaw, president of the British Society for Immunology.

This brief but authoritative review supports the idea that antibiotics may be used more sparingly, pointing out that the evidence for a long duration of therapy is, at best, tenuous. Far from being irresponsible, shortening the duration of a course of antibiotics might make antibiotic resistance less likely.

Alison Holmes, a professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said a great British authority, Prof Harold Lambert, had made the same point in a Lancet article entitled Dont keep taking the tablets as early as 1999. It remains astonishing that apart from some specific infections and conditions, we still do not know more about the optimum duration of courses or indeed doses in many conditions, yet this dogma has been pervasive and persistent.

Jodi Lindsay, a professor of microbial pathogenesis at St Georges, University of London, said it was sensible advice. The evidence for completing the course is poor, and the length of the course of antibiotics has been estimated based on a fear of under-treating rather than any studies, she said. The evidence for shorter courses of antibiotics being equal to longer courses, in terms of cure or outcome, is generally good, although more studies would help and there are a few exceptions when longer courses are better for example, TB.

But the Royal College of GPs expressed concerns. Recommended courses of antibiotics are not random, said its chair, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard. They are tailored to individual conditions and in many cases, courses are quite short for urinary tract infections, for example, three days is often enough to cure the infection.

We are concerned about the concept of patients stopping taking their medication midway through a course once they feel better, because improvement in symptoms does not necessarily mean the infection has been completely eradicated. Its important that patients have clear messages and the mantra to always take the full course of antibiotics is well known. Changing this will simply confuse people.

The UKs chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, said: The message to the public remains the same: people should always follow the advice of healthcare professionals. To update policies, we need further research to inform them.

[The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] is currently developing guidance for managing common infections, which will look at all available evidence on appropriate prescribing of antibiotics.

The Department of Health will continue to review the evidence on prescribing and drug-resistant infections, as we aim to continue the great progress we have made at home and abroad on this issue.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/26/rule-patients-must-finish-antibiotics-course-wrong-study-says

People taking heartburn drugs could have higher risk of death, study claims

Research suggests people on proton pump inhibitors are more likely to die than those taking different antacid or none at all

Millions of people taking common heartburn and indigestion medications could be at an increased risk of death, research suggests.

The drugs, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), neutralise the acid in the stomach and are widely prescribed, with low doses also available without prescription from pharmacies. In the UK, doctors issue more than 50m prescriptions for PPIs every year.

Now researchers say the drugs can increase risk of death, both compared with taking a different type of acid suppressant and not taking any at all.

We saw a small excess risk of dying that could be attributed to the PPI drug, and the risk increased the longer they took them, said Ziyad Al-Aly, an epidemiologist from the University of Washington and co-author of the study.

The team say the study suggests those who take the drugs without needing to could be most at risk. They urged people taking PPIs to check whether this was necessary.

Previous research has raised a range of concerns about PPIs, including links to kidney disease, pneumonia, more hip fractures and higher rates of infection with C difficile, a superbug that can cause life-threatening sepsis, particularly in elderly people in hospitals.

But the latest study is the first to show that PPIs can increase the chance of death. Published in the journal BMJ Open, it examined the medical records of 3.5 million middle-aged Americans covered by the US veterans healthcare system.

The researchers followed 350,000 participants for more than five years and compared those prescribed PPIs to a group receiving a different type of acid suppressant known as an H2 blocker. They also took into account factors such as the participants age, sex and conditions ranging from high blood pressure to HIV.

The results show that those who took PPIs could face a 25% higher risk of death than those who took the H2 blocker.

In patients on [H2 blocker] tablets, there were 3.3 deaths per 100 people over one year. In the PPI group, this figure was higher at 4.7 per 100 people per year, said Al-Aly.

The team also reported that the risk of death for those taking PPIs was 15% higher than those taking no PPIs, and 23% higher than for those taking no acid suppressants at all.

Similar levels of increased risk were seen among people who used PPIs but had no gastrointestinal conditions, a result which the authors speculated might be driving the higher risk seen overall.

Gareth Corbett, a gastroenterologist from Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge who was not involved with the study, cautioned against panic, pointing out that in most cases the benefits of PPI far outweighed any risk. What was more, he said, while the increased risk sounded high, it was still very low for each person.

PPIs are very effective medicines, proven to save lives and reduce the need for surgery in patients with bleeding gastric and duodenal ulcers and several other conditions, he said.

The studys authors said it was important that PPIs were used only when necessary and stopped when no longer needed.

Corbett agreed that many people take PPIs unnecessarily. They could get rid of their heartburn by making lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and cutting back on alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods, he said.

The authors said the study was observational, meaning it did not show that PPIs were the cause of the increased risk of death, and that it was unclear how the drugs would act to affect mortality. They said the drugs could affect components within cells, known as lysosomes, that help break down waste material, or shortening protective regions at the end of chromosomes, known as telomeres.

Aly said people on PPIs should check with their GP whether the drugs were still needed, adding: In some cases we expect that PPIs can be safely stopped, particularly in patients who have been taking them for a long time.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/04/people-taking-heartburn-drugs-could-have-higher-risk-of-death-study-claims

May adopts contrite tone after Tory MPs vent anger over election

Prime minister apologises to Tories who lost seats and reaffirms top cabinet posts in DUP-backed minority government

A chastened Theresa May has apologised to her party colleagues, after squandering the Conservatives majority with an ill-fated snap general election, forcing her to turn to Northern Irelands Democratic Unionist party for backing.

A surge in support for Jeremy Corbyns Labour party and its anti-austerity message drove the Conservatives into retreat, leaving them unable to form a majority government alone.

Labour won the last seat to declare, Kensington and Chelsea, meaning it had 262 MPs and the Conservatives 318 MPs. The prime minister will seek to govern with the help of the DUPs 10 MPs.

In a contrite interview, May said: I wanted to achieve a larger majority. That was not the result we secured. And Im sorry for all those candidates and hard-working party workers who werent successful, but also for those colleagues who were MPs and ministers and contributed so much to our country and who lost their seats and who didnt deserve to lose their seats.

Her explicit apology came after some colleagues were infuriated by an earlier statement in Downing Street that failed to acknowledge the disastrous election result, which many regard as self-inflicted.

After returning from Buckingham Palace, where she received the Queens blessing to form a government, May had promised to provide certainty, and urged her colleagues: Lets get to work.

The prime minister received the staunch backing of pro-Brexit MPs, including Brexit secretary David Davis, amid fears that the election result could stall the process of leaving the European Union, with formal talks due to start within 10 days.

Steve Baker, chair of the influential pro-Brexit European Research Group of backbench MPs, said: My principal thought is that its essential that Conservative MPs support Theresa May as prime minister and make it possible to form the most stable government possible.

But throughout the day, the prime minister faced a growing public backlash from MPs and defeated candidates, who expressed their fury publicly at the way the campaign was run, and the secretive, controlling management style of Mays joint chiefs of staff: Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy.

Nicky Morgan, who was sacked as education secretary by May, said: Im reeling. I think were all reeling. I think theres real fury against the campaign and the buck stops at the top.

She said it was right for the prime minister to continue in office for the time being, but added: I think she wont fight another election and I think eventually, whether it takes weeks or months, we will have to look at the leadership.

Other MPs speculated openly about the likelihood that May could be forced to call another election within months, as she struggles to govern with a wafer-thin majority, even with the backing of the DUP.

Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes and former chair of the Commons health committee, said: I do think she should stay on but I wouldnt be surprised if we end up having another election soon and people will be absolutely appalled by it.

May, who used a threat of a Labour-led coalition of chaos as a key attack line during the campaign, will not enter into a formal deal with the DUP but hopes to win its backing on a vote-by-vote basis. She is expected to address parliamentary colleagues next week in a bid to shore up support.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron accused her of trying to form her own coalition of chaos. He said: She put her party before her country. She has been found out. She should be ashamed.

She has brought weakness and uncertainty. If she has an ounce of self-respect she will resign.

In a sign of the prime ministers weakened authority, she reappointed the five senior cabinet members Amber Rudd, Davis, Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon despite expectations that Hammond, and perhaps Johnson, could be moved aside if she enhanced her majority.

One cabinet source said May had offered them a reassurance that things will be changing, and a remark in her television interview that she would announce further personnel changes was read by insiders as a hint that she could be ready to sacrifice Hill and Timothy. The pair were not in their usual place at her side in No 10 on Friday night, Downing Street insiders said.

More junior appointments are expected to be made at the weekend as the prime minister replaces frontbenchers who lost their seats including Ben Gummer, the former Ipswich MP who was one of the key authors of the ill-fated manifesto, and housing minister Gavin Barwell, who lost Croydon Central.

While Labour fell well short of a parliamentary majority, Corbyns team believe the result was a vindication of their upbeat, anti-cuts message, and will seek to obstruct fresh austerity measures, including Tory manifesto policies such as means-testing the winter fuel allowance, in the voting lobbies.

A spokesman for Corbyn said: We will be using the changed parliamentary arithmetic to drive home the fact that the Tory programme for five more years of austerity will not go on as before.

Labour was invigorated by an upbeat campaign, which saw the party leader address scores of mass rallies, and resulted in many MPs significantly increasing their majorities.

Longtime Conservative seats, including Canterbury in Kent, were snatched by a resurgent Labour, which polled 40% of the vote, with the Conservatives on 42%, as minor parties were squeezed. The increase in Labours vote share was the largest for any party between two general elections since 1945.

Corbyns colleagues, including those who had previously expressed strong criticism of his leadership, praised his campaign. Owen Smith, who challenged Corbyn for the party leadership last summer after saying he was unfit for the job, said: I take my hat off to him, Chuka Umunna, the Streatham MP previously considered a potential leadership challenger, said he would consider accepting a role in a Corbyn-led shadow cabinet.

In Scotland the Scottish National party lost 21 of its 56 seats, including those of party heavyweights Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond, with the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour all making gains.

Nicola Sturgeons dramatic demand for a second independence referendum before the UK leaves the EU appeared not to have enthused the electorate.

Ruth Davidsons Scottish Conservatives, who put preserving the union at the centre of their campaign, achieved the best Tory result in Scotland since 1983. Davidson pointedly tweeted a recent speech she made about gay marriage on Friday, after Mays announcement that she would work closely with the socially conservative DUP, which is opposed to gay marriage.

One explanation for Labours better-than-expected performance was its success in picking up a share of the votes lost by Ukip, which withdrew from many seats and saw its support collapse in others. Corbyns party has made a deliberate populist pitch for left behind voters; and sought to neutralise the issue of Brexit by backing Mays legislation triggering Article 50.

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall announced on Friday that he would be stepping down, after less than a year in the post, prompting speculation that Nigel Farage could step back into the role. In a speech in London, Nuttall promised his party would continue to be the guard dogs of Brexit in the months ahead.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/09/theresa-may-hopes-to-remain-pm-as-voters-deliver-hung-parliament