American wins World Cup

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United States' Mikaela Shiffrin holds the women's World Cup overall trophy at the alpine ski, World Cup finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin holds the women's World Cup overall trophy at the alpine ski, World Cup finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Austria's Marcel Hirscher, left, and United States' Mikaela Shiffrin hold the World Cup overall trophies, at the alpine ski finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin competes during the first run of a women's World Cup giant slalom, at the alpines ski finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Shiffrin wins giant slalom race to seal World Cup title

Sunday, March 17

SOLDEU, Andorra (AP) — Another race won, another crystal trophy earned, another World Cup record written by Mikaela Shiffrin in her historically great season.

Shiffrin won a giant slalom Sunday to seal the season-long standings title and, shedding a few tears while sitting in the finish area, lifted a record-tying fourth World Cup crystal globe in the same season.

“There were many moments in the last eight years where I was thinking maybe I would never get this GS globe,” Shiffrin said, explaining her emotions. “I wanted to be proud of my skiing and really deserve that.”

A fourth discipline title in one season matched the women’s World Cup record jointly held by Lindsey Vonn (2010, 2012) and Tina Maze (2013).

Shiffrin’s 17th World Cup race win this season also extended her own record for men and women. At age 24, her 60 career wins trails only 26 behind Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time total.

The American star needed only a top-15 finish on a sun-soaked day in Andorra to ensure closest challenger Petra Vlhova could not overhaul her points total.

Instead, Olympic giant slalom champion Shiffrin retained her first-run lead in style to finish 0.30 seconds ahead of 17-year-old Alice Robinson. Vlhova was third, 0.41 back.

Standing next to the undisputed current star of women’s Alpine skiing, a bright future was seen Sunday for Robinson. The New Zealand prospect earned her World Cup finals entry by winning the giant slalom at the junior world championships last month.

“Alice skied amazing today, she was attacking both runs,” Shiffrin said of the runner-up who got her first points-scoring top-30 finish only one week earlier.

Robinson’s first World Cup podium arrives at an age just six months older than Shiffrin was getting her first top-3 finish, in a December 2011 slalom.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Robinson told Swiss broadcaster RTS. “It’s crazy, so cool to share the first podium with Petra and Mikaela. They’re such great skiers.”

Shiffrin’s four crystal globes tops the three earned by the men’s standout Marcel Hirscher.

Hirscher already clinched the slalom title, and a record-extending eighth straight overall title, before the final race Sunday.

Seeming fatigued by a long season, Hirscher finished 14th, trailing 1.62 behind the winner Clement Noel in what could be his last World Cup race.

The 30-year-old Hirscher said Saturday after placing sixth in giant slalom that he could spend next season with his young family “cooking and holding the baby.”

“I’m thinking about this every day,” Hirscher said of possibly retiring, acknowledging he has a “very hard decision” in the next two weeks.

Noel barely retained his first-run lead on fast-softening snow, posting the 20th-fastest second-leg time to be 0.18 ahead of Manuel Feller.

The 21-year-old Frenchman, who won his third slalom in a breakout season, wants Hirscher to be back next season.

“If he retires it will be really sad for Alpine skiing,” Noel said. “We want to challenge with champions. Marcel is the best. It’s always a pleasure.”

Daniel Yule was third, trailing Noel by 0.83, to earn $5,000 for a non-profit agency campaigning against climate change.

Yule pledged half his prize money from the final two slalom races of the season as a riposte to comments last month questioning climate change by the International Ski Federation president, Gian Franco Kasper.

Yule was also fifth the previous Sunday, earning an initial $2,500 for the Swiss branch of Colorado-based Protect Our Winters .

The World Cup finals meeting typically celebrates retiring veterans.

Olympic slalom champion Frida Hansdotter wore Swedish traditional dress for a ceremonial last run in the giant slalom, and Felix Neureuther raced more competitively to place seventh in slalom.

Neureuther, who has 13 career World Cup race wins, was doused with champagne and snow in the finish area by his Germany teammates.

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The Conversation

The why, what and where of the world’s black leopards

March 8, 2019

Author: Sam Williams, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Zoology, University of Venda, Researcher at IGDORE, and Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology, Durham University

Disclosure statement: Sam Williams receives funding from the University of Venda.

Partners: Durham University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.

A black leopard was recently spotted in Kenya’s Laikipia area by San Diego Zoo scientist, Nicholas Pilfold. Sam Williams, a conservation ecologist focused on African carnivores, asked Nicholas about the elusive cats.

Where are black leopards found in Africa?

There have been a number of reports of black leopard in Africa, but very few confirmed sightings.

A 2017 global review of black leopard observations found reports of the animal in Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa dating back to 1909. But the only confirmed report was from Ethiopia.

There isn’t very much data when it comes to leopards. Global leopard population numbers are unknown, as are the population numbers for many leopard subspecies.

Black leopards only differ from other leopards in the colour of their coat, a genetic variation that’s recessive and known as “melanism”.

Black leopards are found more often in densely forested habitats. Most confirmed sightings come from south-east Asia. The concentration of these are in the Malay Peninsula, where more than 90% of leopards are black. The frequency and distribution of black leopards in Africa is still part of ongoing research.

Based on what’s known about the type of terrain black leopards prefer it’s predicted that they would be present along the equator across western, central and eastern Africa.

We started our leopard conservation programme nearly two years ago in Laikipia County, central Kenya. The goals of our research are to determine population abundance and status of leopards in the area, and to mitigate human-leopard conflict.

As part of this research, we began recording black leopard observations last year. Since then we have confirmed three different melanistic individuals in our study area, suggesting that these leopards may be more common than first thought.

Why are they black, and does this offer any advantages over other leopards?

Melanism in leopards comes from a mutation that knocks out a gene that regulates the production of melanin. This causes an over production of pigment which turns the coat black.

The coat still has all the same features as a non-melanistic leopard, including the rosettes or spots which is one of the pieces of evidence we used in our study to scientifically confirm black leopard presence in Kenya.

Broadly, melanism has arisen independently in the cat family multiple times, and exists in 13 of the 37 cat species in the Felidae family. This suggests an adaptive significance to carrying this trait.

Black leopards are thought to persist in densely forested habitats, because it offers additional camouflage against shaded or dark backgrounds. For example, in tropical forests in the Malay Peninsula, melanism is displayed at such a high frequency that it’s likely that this is an advantageous trait in natural selection, rather than occurring by chance alone.

So, it’s interesting that our research has confirmed black leopards living in an open, arid environment in Kenya, where shade is limited.

This raises questions about whether being black in an arid environment influences hunting strategy, mating and reproduction. And whether there are natural selection mechanisms, other than camouflage, that allow melanism to persist in leopards.

Are there any specific threats faced by black leopards, and what needs to be done to protect them?

Leopards face a number of threats, including habitat loss, prey loss, conflict with humans and poaching and trafficking of their parts. These threats face all leopards, black included.

It’s unknown if black leopards face more persecution than non-melanistic leopards. If a leopard were to kill livestock, it would face persecution from locals regardless of its coat colour. However, through our conversations with communities we found stories that reveal a level of protection towards the big cats. When hunting in Kenya was legal, some guides refused to shoot black leopards. In Samburu culture in the Laikipia Plateau, owning a black cow is thought to be lucky to livestock herders, and the principle of rarity extends to black leopard. Sighting one is thought to be a symbol which requires interpretation and reflection.

Hopefully the global attention garnered recently by the black leopard images will move public consciousness to recognise leopards and their plight in conservation.


Elizabeth Connor: Oh, I can see why black leopards may be protected – surely, as well as being beyond beautiful, their sudden appearance must seem preternatural.

And if only ‘the principle of rarity’ extended to all such rarities among wild animals, and also to wild animals themselves, no matter what their colouring or species (as this article and the article on the loss of chimpanzee cultures both point out).

If only sighting any wild animal was ‘thought [by us] to be a symbol which requires interpretation and reflection’. If only …

The Conversation

A case against a moratorium on germline gene editing

March 20, 2019

Author: G. Owen Schaefer, Research Assistant Professor in Biomedical Ethics, National University of Singapore

Disclosure statement: G. Owen Schaefer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Should researchers put the brakes on genetically engineering babies? Leading scientists and ethicists recently called for a moratorium on clinical applications of germline gene editing: inheritable alterations to the DNA of embryos to improve kids’ health or other features – or just “gene editing,” for short.

This declaration was prompted in part by the birth last year of the first gene-edited babies in China. The birth was roundly condemned by experts and may result in charges against He Jiankui, the lead scientist involved.

The call for a moratorium is grounded in two main concerns. Its supporters assert, first, that the risks of gene editing are simply too uncertain and potentially large to proceed. Secondly, the deeply controversial nature and potential social impact of altering human DNA means researchers need “broad societal consensus” before proceeding.

The authors suggest a five-year pause to wait for more scientific progress and public dialogue. At that point, the authors propose, societies may choose to begin a path forward for gene editing, if risks are deemed acceptable and the process is fully transparent.

However, several scientists have pushed back against the call for a moratorium, including gene-editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna and geneticist George Church. As a biomedical ethicist, I believe the objectors raise valid concerns about the relevance and usefulness of a moratorium that are worth reflecting upon.

Plenty everyone agrees on

To be sure, those for and against a moratorium actually agree on some key points.

Almost no one thinks the world is ready for clinical trials today, as more basic science is needed to minimize risks like editing the wrong bits of DNA, or “mosaicism,” where some but not all DNA in an embryo is altered. He Jiankui’s rogue science was clearly unethical for this and other reasons, including a lack of transparency and flaws in informed consent.

There is also no pushback against the idea that the world needs to have a public conversation about gene editing. Do you want to live in a society where embryos’ DNA is edited in order to improve the lives of the next generation? Are the risks of gene editing worth the benefits? Can and should we draw a bright line between editing for disease prevention and editing for enhancement? These questions cannot be answered only by experts, and require substantial public engagement.

Nevertheless, a divide over other issues remains.

Moratorium redundant where laws already exist

Already, over 30 countries prohibit this sort of gene editing, either by law, regulation or enforceable guidelines. For this reason, it was quite easy for the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health to endorse the proposed moratorium – the NIH, the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, is already prohibited by law from funding clinical applications of gene editing. So a moratorium is at best redundant in those nations, perpetuating the status quo.

It is also liable to cause confusion. If a country or scientific body announces a moratorium as recommended, this could misleadingly imply that germline editing was previously permitted and unregulated. It could also suggest that some countries’ bans will expire in five years, when currently none has a time-limited prohibition.

Arbitrariness of a blunt instrument

At the same time, I believe a moratorium could work in countries that currently lack prohibitions on gene editing. It could help prevent rogue scientists from seeking environments that are relatively unregulated to pursue dubious experiments. This is what happened with the first births using mitochondrial replacement (so-called “3-parent IVF”): An American fertility doctor carried out part of the procedure in Mexico because he perceived the rules as laxer there.

Additionally, the call can be heard as an argument for reform of current laws and regulations: Society should revisit prohibitions and – depending on the evidence and popular opinion – consider rescinding them in five years’ time.

But some researchers remain concerned that a moratorium is an overly crude and arbitrary means of regulating a controversial new technology. While the technology is currently not fit for clinical use, are scientists so certain that it still won’t be within five years’ time? More flexible regulatory frameworks that do not include arbitrary timelines could better adapt to rapid scientific developments and shifts in public perceptions.

A call for public input – without public input

Finally, it’s unclear whether a moratorium is consistent with the democratic norms that the proponents of a moratorium espouse. In particular, they reiterate the idea that researchers should only proceed with germline gene editing if there is broad societal consensus on how to proceed.

But shouldn’t a moratorium itself be subject to the requirement of broad societal consensus? Blanket prohibitions will have a substantial impact not just on the scientific community but on access for the rest of society to the potential fruits of research – a potential infringement of the human right to benefit from science. Whether that infringement is justified is an important question that cannot be answered by experts alone.

To some extent, democratic countries that ban gene editing will have already undergone typical (if flawed) democratic processes to come to that decision. But in places that the moratorium is not redundant, it is reasonable to demand broad societal consensus before proceeding with a moratorium that even leading scientists don’t all agree on.

The cautious may argue that a presumption against gene editing is warranted before consensus can be established, because of the substantial individual risks and societal impact of proceeding to alter the human genome for future generations. However, those societal risks are very substantial only if gene editing quickly becomes widespread. That is something careful regulation rather than a blanket prohibition might be well-suited to address.

In addition, I see it as somewhat problematic for experts to impose their own personal assessment of whether the risks outweigh the benefits of gene editing on the rest of society. Weighing risks and benefits is a fundamentally ethical issue, not one where scientific expertise can resolve the matter.

In the end, though, there seems to be broad agreement on the need for greater public deliberation over the questions related to germline gene editing: on whether gene editing is permissible, on whether a moratorium is appropriate – and more fundamentally, on what sort of a society we all want to live in.

Opinion: How to Help a Relative With Anxieties and Depression

By Stan Popovich

Do you ever get stuck into that vicious cycle of worrying where you get overwhelmed with worrying and fearful thoughts? In return, this creates more panic and worry and eventually you can’t function because you are a basket case.

As the author of a book on managing fear, I struggled with fear, anxiety and stress for more than 20 years. Eventually, I was able to overcome the endless cycle of fear and anxiety.

Do you know a friend or loved one who suffers from fear, anxiety and depression and does not know what to do? It can be frustrating to watch someone you know suffer and not be able to help them.

Here are six ways to help the person cope in these kinds of situations and the best way to deal with anxiety.

—Learn as much as you can in managing anxiety and depression. There are many books and other sources of information that will educate you on how to deal with fear and anxiety. Share this information with the person who is struggling with mental health issues.

—Be understanding and patient with the person struggling with their fears. Do not add more problems than what is already there. Do not get into arguments with the person who is having a difficult time with their anxieties.

—Talk to the person instead of talking at them. It is important not to lecture the person who is struggling with anxiety and depression. Talk to the person about their issues without being rude. Most people will listen if you approach them in a proper manner.

—Seek help from a professional who can help your friend or relative with their mental health struggles. A counselor can give you advice and ideas on how to overcome anxiety, fear and depression. Getting help from a professional is the priority in helping one deal with fear and anxiety. Joining a local mental health support group can also be helpful. Talk to your doctor to get more information about potential groups in your area.

—Talk to the person on what will happen if they do not get help. Another way to convince the person who is struggling with fear and depression is to tell them what may happen if they don’t get some assistance. Anxiety and depression can make things worse and usually it won’t go away by itself without some kind of treatment.

—Find out the reasons the person won’t get help: Many people who are struggling are fearful and frustrated. Try to find out the reasons he or she won’t get the help they need and then try to find ways that will overcome their resistance of seeking assistance.

Regardless of your current situation, things do not stay the same. You may feel very bad today, but it won’t last forever. Everything changes over time and this includes your current mental health issues.


Stan Popovich is the author of “A Layman’s Guide to Managing Fear.” He wrote this for

United States’ Mikaela Shiffrin holds the women’s World Cup overall trophy at the alpine ski, World Cup finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati) States’ Mikaela Shiffrin holds the women’s World Cup overall trophy at the alpine ski, World Cup finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, left, and United States’ Mikaela Shiffrin hold the World Cup overall trophies, at the alpine ski finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)’s Marcel Hirscher, left, and United States’ Mikaela Shiffrin hold the World Cup overall trophies, at the alpine ski finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

United States’ Mikaela Shiffrin competes during the first run of a women’s World Cup giant slalom, at the alpines ski finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati) States’ Mikaela Shiffrin competes during the first run of a women’s World Cup giant slalom, at the alpines ski finals in Soldeu, Andorra, Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
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