North Korea may stage two more nuclear tests this year, source says

Fourth test would be much larger than third, staged this week, and there could also be another rocket launch


    • Reuters in Beijing
    •, Friday 15 February 2013 09.37 EST
North Korea nuclear test celebration

North Korean soldiers and civilians in Pyongyang celebrate the success of the country’s third nuclear test. Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media

North Korea has told its key ally China that it is prepared to stage one or two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks, a source said.

There could also be another rocket launch, said the source, who has direct access to the top levels of government in both Beijing and Pyongyang.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday, drawing a stern warning from the US that it was a provocation.

“It’s all ready. A fourth and fifth nuclear test and a rocket launch could be conducted soon, possibly this year,” the source said, adding that the fourth nuclear test would be much larger than the third at an equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT.

The source said the tests would be undertaken unless Washington held talks with North Korea and abandoned its policy of what Pyongyang sees as attempts at regime change.

North Korea also reiterated its longstanding desire for the US to sign a final peace agreement with it and establish diplomatic relations, the source said. The North remains technically at war with both the US and South Korea after the Korean war ended in 1953 with a truce.

Initial estimates of this week’s test from South Korea’s military put its yield at the equivalent of 6-7 kilotons, although a final assessment of yield and what material was used in the explosion may be weeks away.

The test, North Korea’s third since 2006, prompted warnings from Washington and others that more sanctions would be imposed. The UN security council has only just tightened sanctions after Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket in December. The North is banned under UN sanctions from developing missile or nuclear technology.

North Korea worked to ready its nuclear test site, about 60 miles from its border with China, throughout last year, according to commercially available satellite imagery. The images show that it may have already prepared for at least one more test.

“Based on satellite imagery that showed there were the same activities in two tunnels, they have one tunnel left after the latest test,” said Kune Y Suh, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University.

Analysis of satellite imagery released on Friday by the specialist North Korea website 38North showed activity at a rocket site that appeared to indicate it was being prepared for an upcoming launch.

The North has said the test this week was a reaction to what it called “US hostility” following its rocket launch in December. Critics say the rocket launch was aimed at developing technology for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“[North] Korea is not afraid of [further] sanctions,” the source said. “It is confident agricultural and economic reforms will boost grain harvests this year, reducing its food reliance on China.”

China signed up for sanctions after the North’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and for a UN security council resolution passed in January to condemn the latest rocket launch. However, Beijing has stopped short of abandoning all support for Pyongyang.

Sanctions have not discouraged North Korea from pursuing its nuclear ambitions, analysts said. “It is like watching the same movie over and over again,” said Lee Woo-young, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “The idea that stronger sanctions make North Korea stop developing nuclear programmes isn’t effective in my view.”

The source with ties to Beijing and Pyongyang said China would again support UN sanctions. He declined to comment on what level of sanctions Beijing would be willing to endorse.

“When China supported UN sanctions … [North] Korea angrily called China a puppet of the United States,” he said. “There will be new sanctions which will be harsh. China is likely to agree to it,” he said, without elaborating.

He said Beijing would not cut food and fuel supplies to North Korea, a measure that it reportedly took after a previous nuclear test. The source said North Korea’s actions were a distraction for China’s leadership, which was concerned the escalations could inflame public opinion in China and hasten military buildups in the region.


The Big Bang Theory of Education

Authoritarian countries don’t seem to be doing well at the knowledge business. That’s probably no accident.


China just doesn’t manufacture more stuff than the rest of us — it’s also about to dominate the world intellectually. Chinese universities are preparing to conquer the world. China is now taking the lead in the publication of academic papers. Each year Chinese campuses are producing legions of super-qualified engineering graduates — and no wonder, given those Spartan study habits!

In fact, none of these things is (entirely) true. Of course China is amply supplied with great minds, and of course many of its students are hard workers. But a lot of the oft-quoted statistics about China’s academic triumphs turn out to be hollow. Yes, Chinese academics publish a lot of papers — but that’s because they’re meeting government-set publication quotas. The quality of most of those Chinese-authored monographs (which can be measured by how often they’re cited by other scholars) is spotty. And those awe-inspiring figures on engineering graduates have been thoroughly debunked as well. Some of the numbers have unclear origins, and many of those “engineers” are better described as “technicians,” people whose actual qualifications are minimal. (And let’s not even get started on the fraud and corruption that apparently permeate the Chinese education system.)

In short, talk of China’s academic rise needs to be taken with a grain of salt. All this came to mind the other day, when I spotted a story in the New York Times that bore the ominous headline: “U.S. Falls and Asia Gains in University Rankings.” The article refers to the latest study of global universities conducted by Times Higher Education magazine (one of the few organizations that offers an annual ranking of institutions of higher education around the world). Here’s one of the takeaways:

Asian universities were the biggest gainers, with universities in China, Singapore, and Australia moving up the table, as did every university in South Korea, led by Seoul National University, which jumped to 59th place from 124th. “We’ve been talking for years about the rise of Asia,” said Phil Baty, editor of the rankings. “But this is the first solid empirical evidence.”

Entirely aside from the question of whether Australia ought to be considered part of Asia, I found this thesis somewhat intriguing. A closer look at the rankings quickly revealed that, yes, universities from Asia are certainly on the move. But the more interesting question turns out to be: From which Asia?

Given all the talk about the stunning rise of Chinese academia, you’d expect that universities from the People’s Republic would be over-represented here. But that’s not the case at all. Altogether, 57 universities from Asia make the top 400 in the rankings this time around. Of those, nine are from mainland China. That’s nine out of 400. The highest-ranked Chinese institution is Peking University, at number 46 (right after Washington University in St. Louis).

But this doesn’t mean that all Chinese universities are playing academic catchup — as becomes apparent when you take a look at the rest of the rankings. Taiwan boasts seven out of the top 400, and tiny Hong Kong — the real stunner of this survey, in my view — six. So why should these two Chinese-inhabited territories be so far ahead that their combined total outdoes that of the mainland — even though they have only a miniscule fraction of its population?

Let me hazard a guess: I think it might have to do with the nature of the societies in which these universities are embedded. Though the people of Hong Kong can’t properly elect their leaders, the culture of the territory is indisputably democratic, with a strong rule of law and well-established habits of assembly and debate. (Yeah, I know: Hong Kong is officially part of the People’s Republic. But it enjoys considerable autonomy and still jealously defends its unique character.) Taiwan, of course, is a multi-party democracy — no qualifiers needed.

So why would my theory that the difference has to do with democracy make sense? Presumably because it’s really hard to build a proper research university without freedom of information and inquiry — just the sort of thing that authoritarian regimes have a hard time allowing. “Academic freedom is a fundamental part of the formula for creating a world-class university,” says Phil Baty, who was in charge of the survey (and yes, he’s the same guy who was quoted in the Times article cited above). “You have to give your professors the room to question received wisdom.” Throw enough money and infrastructure at the problem and you can do quite a lot, he notes; Chinese leaders, who understand the importance of technical knowledge and innovation, are definitely making up for lost time in this respect. But even when it comes to math and science, you probably won’t get the best bang for your buck unless professors and students are allowed to think freely.

Perhaps this is why the overwhelming majority of the other East Asian nations prominently represented in the top 400 — Japan (with 13) and South Korea (6) — also happen to be vigorous democracies. The only possible exception is the tiny, authoritarian city-state of Singapore, which has two universities in the rankings — quite an impressive achievement. But it’s an exception nonetheless — and it becomes even more so when one notes that the vast majority of the institutions in the top 400 still hail from the democratic nations of Western Europe and North America. (American universities account for seven of the top 10 and 76 of the top 100.)

Of course, we could also see it from the other way around: Of the world’s autocracies, mainland China is the only that really has any serious presence in the top 400 at all. Only two universities from Russia made it in. In the Middle East, Israel and Turkey both have a clutch of schools; but Saudi Arabia and Iran can only manage one each. (Yes, that’s right: The entire Arab world, once the storehouse of the world’s knowledge, can claim just one of the world’s top 400 universities.)

Perhaps the autocrats should take a closer look at the No. 1 school in the survey: the California Institute of Technology. As Baty points out, Cal Tech is distinguished not only to its innovative approach to learning (where small groups of students actively solve problems, rather than passively listening to lectures, with the world’s leading scientists), but also by its spirit of free-wheeling creativity, which includes a love of creative pranks and general craziness. The same applies to MIT (fifth in the rankings), which also prides itself on its unorthodox teaching approach — as well as its rich history of “hacks.”

A successful research university, Baty argues, has to allow “academics to follow their noses and to think in a blue-skies way.” (In this context, I don’t think it’s any accident that the main characters in the hit U.S. TV comedy The Big Bang Theory, which celebrates the virtues of iconoclastic nerdiness, are Cal Tech grad students.)

Of course, things are not all rosy at universities in the United States and Britain, either, as Baty is quick to point out. Costs are rising. Research funds are, increasingly, narrowly targeted, crowding out financing for the sorts of fundamental research that are essential to big discoveries. And yes, there’s rising pressure from new players on the global scene.

This should not be a source of undue hysteria. To the contrary: Established universities should welcome the competition (not to mention the new possibilities for collaboration). But that certainly doesn’t mean that the schools with successful traditions of untrammeled inquiry should lose sight of the values that got them where they are today. Freedom is the air that good thinking breathes.

Common food additive found to increase risk and speed spread of lung cancer : inorganic phosphate

2008 study posted for filing

Contact: Keey Savoie
American Thoracic Society

New research in an animal model suggests that a diet high in inorganic phosphates, which are found in a variety of processed foods including meats, cheeses, beverages, and bakery products, might speed growth of lung cancer tumors and may even contribute to the development of those tumors in individuals predisposed to the disease.

The study also suggests that dietary regulation of inorganic phosphates may play an important role in lung cancer treatment. The research, using a mouse model, was conducted by Myung-Haing Cho, D.V.M., Ph.D., and his colleagues at Seoul National University, appears in the first issue for January of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published by the American Thoracic Society.

“Our study indicates that increased intake of inorganic phosphates strongly stimulates lung cancer development in mice, and suggests that dietary regulation of inorganic phosphates may be critical for lung cancer treatment as well as prevention,” said Dr. Cho.

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in the world and is also the most frequently diagnosed solid tumor. Non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) constitutes over 75 percent of lung cancers and has an average overall 35-year survival rate of 14 percent. Earlier studies have indicated that approximately 90 percent of NSCLC cases were associated with activation of certain signaling pathways in lung tissue. This study revealed that high levels of inorganic phosphates can stimulate those same pathways.

“Lung cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell proliferation in lung tissue, and disruption of signaling pathways in those tissues can confer a normal cell with malignant properties,” Dr. Cho explained. “Deregulation of only a small set of pathways can confer a normal cell with malignant properties, and these pathways are regulated in response to nutrient availability and, consequently, cell proliferation and growth.

“Phosphate is an essential nutrient to living organisms, and can activate some signals,” he added. “This study demonstrates that high intake of inorganic phosphates may strongly stimulate lung cancer development by altering those (signaling) pathways.”

In the study, lung cancer-model mice were studied for four weeks and were randomly assigned to receive a diet of either 0.5 or 1.0 percent phosphate, a range roughly equivalent to modern human diets. At the end of the four-week period, the lung tissue was analyzed to determine the effects of the inorganic phosphates on tumors.

“Our results clearly demonstrated that the diet higher in inorganic phosphates caused an increase in the size of the tumors and stimulated growth of the tumors,” Dr. Cho said.

Dr. Cho noted that while a moderate level of phosphate plays an essential role in living organisms, the rapidly increasing use of phosphates as a food additive has resulted in significantly higher levels in average daily diets. Phosphates are added to many food products to increase water retention and improve food texture.

“In the 1990s, phosphorous-containing food additives contributed an estimated 470 mg per day to the average daily adult diet,” he said. “However, phosphates are currently being added much more frequently to a large number of processed foods, including meats, cheeses, beverages, and bakery products. As a result, depending on individual food choices, phosphorous intake could be increased by as much as 1000 mg per day.”

“Although the 0.5 percent was defined as close to ‘normal,’ the average diet today is actually closer to the one percent diet and may actually exceed it,” Dr. Cho noted. “Therefore, the 0.5 percent intake level is actually a reduced phosphate diet by today’s scale.”

Dr. Cho said future studies will help refine what constitutes a “safe” level of dietary inorganic phosphate, with recommendations that will be easily achievable in the average population.

“The results of this study suggest that dietary regulation of inorganic phosphates has a place in lung cancer treatment, and our eventual goal is to collect sufficient information to accurately assess the risk of these phosphates,” he said.

John Heffner, M.D., past president of the ATS, stated that this line of investigation in animals addresses the complex interactions between host factors and the environment that underlie cancer in man. “We know that only some patients who smoke develop lung cancer but the reasons for this varying risk are unknown. This study now provides a rationale for funding case-control studies in humans to determine the potential role of dietary phosphates in promoting cancer.”

Coffee’s aroma kick-starts genes in the brain

Re-Post for Filing 2008

Contact: Michael Woods
American Chemical Society

IMAGE:Scientists report that the simple inhalation of coffee by rats has changed their gene expressions in ways that help reduce sleep deprivation-induced stress.Click here for more information.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

Drink coffee to send a wake-up call to the brain? Or just smell its rich, warm aroma? An international group of scientists is reporting some of the first evidence that simply inhaling coffee aroma alters the activity of genes in the brain. In experiments with laboratory rats, they found that coffee aroma orchestrates the expression of more than a dozen genes and some changes in protein expressions, in ways that help reduce the stress of sleep deprivation. Their study is scheduled for the June 25 issue of ACS’ bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Han-Seok Seo and colleagues point out that hundreds of studies have been done on the ingredients in coffee, including substances linked to beneficial health effects. “There are few studies that deal with the beneficial effects of coffee aroma,” they note. “This study is the first effort to elucidate the effects of coffee bean aroma on the sleep deprivation-induced stress in the rat brain.”

In an effort to begin filling that gap, they allowed lab rats to inhale coffee aroma, including some rats stressed by sleep deprivation. The study then compared gene and protein expressions in the rats’ brains. Rats that sniffed coffee showed different levels of activity in 17 genes. Thirteen of the genes showed differential mRNA expression between the stress group and the stress with coffee group, including proteins with healthful antioxidant activity known to protect nerve cells from stress-related damage. — MTS

“Effects of Coffee Bean Aroma on the Rat Brain Stressed by Sleep Deprivation: A Selected Transcript- and 2D Gel-Based Proteome Analysis”


Han-Seok Seo, Ph.D.
Seoul National University
Seoul, South Korea