Pulse on China's Economy: Steadfast industrial upgrade lifts China's high-quality development to new height seen from NEV's rise

On a recent summer afternoon in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, there were very few people on the streets, and traffic was relatively light. Such a sight hardly showed any sign of a rapidly shifting global geo-economic landscape.

Yet, a closer look revealed a very interesting dynamic: While a vast majority of the cars on the streets are older sedans carrying the golden cross logo of US carmaker Chevrolet, newer, futuristic ones are often new-energy vehicles (NEVs) produced by Chinese carmaker BYD. The slogan - Build Your Dream - was a distinctive feature on the back of each BYD cars.  

Such a dynamic is expected to become even more significant not just on the streets of Tashkent, but also those of other cities around the world. Last month, BYD and Uzbekistan signed an investment agreement to build a factory for NEVs in the country. Globally, China has become the world's biggest auto exporter and 60 percent of the world's total NEVs are produced and sold in China. 

The rapid rise of China's NEV sector globally is a microcosm of the success of China's industrial upgrade and high-quality development. Recently, as some indicators fell short of sky-high expectations for China's economic recovery this year, some Western officials and media outlets continue to relentlessly hype up the short-term fluctuations in an attempt to smear the Chinese economy. However, such smear completely ignores the achievement of China's industrial upgrade and its pursuit of high-quality development - which has not only seen major progress but also shown vast potential for long-term, sustainable growth that will contribute greatly for the world economy, Chinese officials and economists said. 

Still, China's NEV industry did not rise to its global leading position without a lot of hard work and focus. Industrial transformation and upgrade often come with pain. At a ceremony marking the production of the 5 millionth NEV, Wang Chuanfu, founder of BYD, choked up a few times, as he recalled the hardships the company has faced over the years, including facing bankruptcy at one point. BYD is hardly the only Chinese company that has faced and ultimately overcome such hardships. 

SAIC Volkswagen, a Chinese-German joint venture, represents a typical case. The company had been the industry leader for years in the field of fossil fuel cars. But in 2018, as sales of traditional fossil fuel cars plunged, China's auto industry saw its first ever negative growth, and SAIC also saw major drops in sales and profits. The company started its transition toward NEVs.

"Market choice has pointed toward a clear path. Even if there will be pain, we must closely follow the NEV trend," an executive from SAIC was quoted as saying by the People's Daily.

With that, the company shut down a 40-year-old factory, and invested 17 billion yuan in building a new plant that can produce 300,000 NEVs annually. The company also stepped up spending in research and development (R&D), with industry leading investment despite financial challenges. The result: Starting in July, sales of the company's ID NEVs surpassed 10,000 units for two consecutive months, leading sales of other NEVs produced by joint ventures. And the company continues to invest heavily in NEVs in the second half of 2023. 

Such successful stories of transformation are shared by many other Chinese carmakers. Together, they represent the rise of China's auto industry, with leading production, sales as well as innovations. And the rise of China's industry also reflects China's overall industrial transformation and upgrade, which often encounters challenges but ultimately translates into high-quality development - the central goal of the Chinese economy. 

In a speech at a reception to celebrate the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 28, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that to achieve high-quality development, the country must fully and faithfully implement the new development philosophy in all aspects, and accelerate the development of a new development paradigm. Xi also pointed out that the economic recovery is picking up pace, contributing to the steady advancement of high-quality development, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Comprehensive view on GDP 

In the first half of 2023, China's GDP grew by 5.5 percent, prompting many speculations and even dire predictions about the Chinese economy.

Is such a growth rate high or low? To answer this question, a comprehensive look at the new addition and the quality of growth, instead of just speed, is necessary. 

"As the world's second-largest economy, a 1 percent growth today is vastly different from that of the past in terms of absolute increment," said Wang Xiaosong, a professor of economics at Renmin University of China in Beijing. In 2022, China's GDP stood at about $18 trillion, the increment from a 1 percent growth rate is equivalent to that of 2.1 percent growth rate 10 years ago - and that of 5.3 percent growth rate in India. 

Moreover, a 5.5 percent growth rate is faster the 3 percent growth rate in 2022 and the 4.5 percent growth rate in the first quarter of 2023 and is the fastest growth rate among major economies. The growth rate is also in line with China's official growth target of about 5 percent in 2023. While many had expected a restorative economic recovery in China, the fact is that over the past three years, the global economy has been deeply troubled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the still ongoing Ukraine crisis. Like the world economy, China's economy also goes through a recovery process and a 5.5 percent growth rate is hard-won.

"You can't expect an athlete to break the 100-meter sprint record, while his body is still recovering," said Wang Changlin, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the People's Daily.

In terms of quality, the 5.5 percent growth rate in the first half of 2023 was led by consumption and investment, instead of investment and exports in 2022. It was also driven by innovation and new growth models. In the first half of the year, the added value of information transmission, software and information technology services jumped by 12.9 percent, while online retail sales of physical goods grew by 10.8 percent. The real growth rate of per capita disposable income of residents across the country was 5.8 percent, significantly faster than that of 2022. China has not just achieved stable growth but also ensured the security of food, energy and industrial and supply chains. 

"One of the highlights of China's economy this year is that the security and sustainability of economic development have been significantly enhanced," Wang Xiaosong said, noting that China's economy is currently very resilient and will continue to maintain the healthy and stable growth.

While some headline figures for areas such as exports, investment, employment and corporate profits were less than impressive, there are also many highlights. In the first half of the year, China's exports to countries participating in the joint construction of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative saw a double-digit growth, combined exports of NEVs, lithium batteries and solar cells jumped by 61.6 percent. In the first eight months, China's auto exports soared 104.4 percent, and ship exports increased by 28 percent. 

"With the continued effect of a series of policy measures, we have the confidence, foundation and conditions to achieve the goal of promoting stability and improving the quality of imports and exports," said Lü Daliang, a spokesperson with the General Administration of Customs, during a press conference in July. 

In terms of investment, in the first half of the year, total fixed-asset investment increased by 3.8 percent year-on-year, with private investment dropping 0.2 percent. However, excluding real estate investment, private investment jumped by 9.4 percent during the same period. China has also taken a slew of measures to stabilize the real estate market. 

Vast potential

"Based on international experience, after an economy reaches a certain scale, industrial upgrading and transformation and development are generally accompanied by short-term slowdown. While accelerating structural adjustment, transformation and upgrading, China's economy has achieved effective qualitative improvement and reasonable quantitative growth, which is extremely difficult," Yang Changyong, a senior researcher from the Chinese Academy of Macroeconomic Research, told the People's Daily. 

Yang said that the Chinese economy can make new breakthroughs and reach new heights if the advantages of the vast domestic consumption are fully leveraged, greater efforts are made in adjusting growth models and structures and boosting growth engines, and a powerful and resilient domestic economy is established. 

China also has the institutional advantage of being a socialist market economy, sufficient macro policy tools and adjustment room, and abundant means and measures to prevent and tackle risks, which ensures long-term stability of the Chinese economy despite challenges, according to Wang Changlin.

The bright prospect of China's high-quality development is also reflected in the steadfast efforts by companies such as BYD and SAIC Volkswagen to transform and innovate. With their advanced technologies and high-quality products reaching every corner of the globe, the world will feel and benefit from China's high-quality development. 

Wu Qiuyu, Zhao Zhanhui and Liu Shiyao are People's Daily reporters; Wang Cong is a Global Times reporter.

China’s first deep-sea multi-functional scientific investigation and cultural relic archaeological vessel set to be completed in 2025

Construction on China's first deep-sea multi-functional scientific investigation and cultural relic archaeological vessel officially began in Nansha, Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province on Sunday. The ship is expected to be completed and put into operation in 2025, CCTV reported on Monday.

According to the report, the ship has a total design length of approximately 103 meters, a designed displacement of approximately 9,200 tons, a maximum speed of 29.63 kilometers per hour, a reach of 15,000 nautical miles, and can accommodate up to 80 crew members. 

The vessel is a new type of multi-functional scientific research vessel capable of conducting deep-sea scientific investigations and cultural relic excavations, as well as polar sea area investigations in summer. 

The ship has a number of iconic features, including unrestricted waterway navigation, manned diving, deep-sea detection and heavy-duty safety payload capabilities, providing the necessary sample and environmental data for forefront geological, environmental, and biological sciences research in the deep and remote ocean. 

It also provides related discipline guidance and underwater operations support for deep-sea archaeology, while supporting sea trial and use of core deep-sea equipment.

In the future, the vessel will become an open and shared maritime platform for multi-system integration, interdisciplinary crossover, and collaborative innovation in China, which is of great significance for strengthening China's substantial presence in the global deep-sea research, enhancing China's deep-sea archaeological capabilities, and realizing full-scale access to the global deep sea.

Song Jianzhong, a researcher at the National Centre for Archaeology, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the ship would provide solid support for Chinese deep-sea archaeology.

Two ancient ships carrying numerous cultural relics were discovered in October 2022 in the South China Sea at a depth of about 1,500 meters, and are currently undergoing excavation work. 

He Guangwei, deputy chief engineer at the Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Limited, stated that there is currently no ship in China capable of conducting manned deep-sea scientific investigations in polar regions. The construction of this vessel will fill this gap.

This ship is designed to conduct manned deep-sea scientific investigations in polar regions while also being able to carry out cultural relic archaeology and operations in the South China Sea. The ship has many key technologies, including icebreaking capabilities and anti-freezing materials for polar environments, and related operating and detecting equipment for scientific investigations in polar regions.

Five things to know about Zika

The mysteries of the Zika virus are slowly but surely succumbing to the scientific method. Last week, scientists revealed the virus’ structure, gleaned further insight into its ties to the birth defect microcephaly and found out just how little some people seem to know about Zika. Public health researchers at Harvard University released the results of a poll related to Zika awareness on March 29, and lots of respondents flunked. In a survey of 1,275 adults, 23 percent were unaware of Zika’s association with microcephaly and 42 percent did not know the virus could be transmitted sexually.

The survey highlights some general confusion about the facts of Zika, and the latest new tidbits show how quickly researchers are learning new things about this virus. So, let’s take a look at what people are saying about Zika and set the record straight .

Yes, in the case of microcephaly, Zika looks very, very guilty. No, pesticides and vaccines do not cause microcephaly.
A few different things, including viruses, can cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies have abnormally small heads and brain damage, as Meghan Rosen notes in the April 2 Science News. At the moment, there’s no smoking gun to convict Zika as the perpetrator behind Brazil’s uptick in microcephaly, but it’s not looking good for the virus. In Brazil, more microcephaly cases have appeared in places with more Zika cases. Zika has also been detected in the amniotic fluid, placenta and brain tissue of fetuses with microcephaly. It attacks specific cells related to fetal development. Zika infection during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriages and placental problems, plus other neurological conditions, including the rare autoimmune disease Guillain-Barré syndrome.

WHO officials noted in their March 31 situation report: “Based on observational, cohort and case-control studies there is strong scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of [Guillain-Barré syndrome], microcephaly and other neurological disorders.”

The evidence against other suspects is much less compelling. Still, a report by a group in Argentina calling themselves “Physicians Against Fumigated Towns” sent the Internet into a tizzy in February with the claim that the larvicide pyriproxyfen, not Zika, was to blame for microcephaly cases. The WHO has since reviewed toxicology studies and widespread use of the pesticide and found no evidence that the chemical interfered with human pregnancy or development. Similar rumors that vaccines or genetically modified mosquitoes caused Brazil’s microcephaly uptick simply lack any evidence, the WHO says.
Yes, you can get Zika by having sex with an infected person.
Though Aedes mosquitoes serve as the primary vector for Zika, researchers have had suspicions for a while that Zika could be sexually transmitted. In 2008, a U.S. researcher developed Zika infection symptoms after returning home from studying mosquitoes in Senegal and transmitted the virus to his wife through sex. This was the first documented sexually transmitted case of Zika.

Since then, more sexually transmitted cases have emerged in the U.S., as well as in Italy, France, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand. Thus far, only men have transmitted the virus, and whether women can also transmit the virus to their sexual partners is unknown. Researchers suspect that the virus may linger longer in semen than in blood — another potential source of transmission currently being investigated. (On March 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a screening test for Zika in blood donatons.) To prevent the spread of Zika between sexual partners, the CDC recommends the usual precautions.

No, there’s no vaccine for Zika, but people are working on it.
There is currently no vaccine against Zika, and vaccines against other viruses from the same family, like yellow fever, do not offer protection against Zika. That said, concern over Zika’s link to neurological disorders and growing case counts in the Americas has jump-started efforts to develop a vaccine. The idea of a chimeric vaccine that could combat Zika and other related viruses like dengue is an attractive research prospect. On March 31, a team reported the virus’ structure in Science, providing potential clues for vaccine development.

Sometimes Zika symptoms are obvious. Sometimes they’re not.
Only 20 percent of the people who get Zika actually notice symptoms. When they do, those symptoms include fever, rash, sore joints, pink eye and muscle pain. Sometimes Zika cases look a lot like dengue and chikungunya — meaning there’s potential for misdiagnosis.

No, sterilized mosquitoes do not increase the spread of Zika. In fact, they could help fight it.
There’s no evidence that sterilized mosquitoes aid and abet the spread of the virus. Some researchers would actually argue that they are our best chance of stopping it, Susan Milius notes in the April 2 Science News. Sterilization, by zapping males with radiation or genetically tweaking them, could reduce and theoretically wipe out a mosquito population. Meanwhile, gene drives likes CRISPR/Cas9 seem poised to make genetic sterilization methods a lot easier, too. Infecting mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria also cuts bloodsucker populations. If all else fails, El Salvador is using the tried and true method of deploying fish to eat all the larvae in mosquito breeding ponds. It goes without saying, but none of these control methods actually aid the spread of Zika.

Sounds from gunshots may help solve crimes

The surveillance video shows a peaceful city streetscape: People walking, cars driving, birds chirping.

“Then, abruptly, there’s the sound of gunfire,” said electrical engineer Robert Maher. “A big bang followed by another bang.”

Witnesses saw two shooters facing off, a few meters apart — one aiming north, the other south. But no one knew who shot first. That’s where Maher comes in. His specialty is gunshot acoustics, and he’s helping shore up the science behind a relatively new forensics field.
In the case of the two shooters, surveillance cameras missed the action, but the sounds told a story that was loud and clear.

A distinctive echo followed the first gunshot but not the second. The first gunshot’s sound probably bounced off a big building to the north, causing the echo, Maher concluded. So the first person to shoot was the person facing north, he reported May 24 in Salt Lake City at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

Maher has analyzed the booming echoes of gunshots in dozens of cases, but he’s also studying the millisecond-long sound of a bullet blasting out of the barrel — and finding differences from one type of gun to the next.

He and colleagues at Montana State University in Bozeman erected a semicircular aluminum frame studded with 12 microphones, evenly spaced and raised 3 meters off the ground. When someone standing on a raised platform in the center of the contraption shoots a gun — a 12-gauge shotgun, for example, or a .38 Special handgun — the microphones pick up the sound.

“Each of the different firearms has a distinctive signal,” he says. His team is building a database of sounds made by 20 different guns. To the ear, the gunshots seem alike, but Maher can chart out differences in the sound waves.
One day, investigators might be able to use the information to figure out what kind of guns were fired at a crime scene. Of course, Maher says, most crime scene recordings aren’t high quality — they often come from cellphones or surveillance systems. But his team will compare those recordings with ones made in his outdoor “lab” and try to figure out which aspects of crime scene audio they can analyze.

Maher, a music lover who plays the cello and sings in a choir, didn’t intend this career. “If I were really talented at music, that’s what I’d be doing full time,” he says. Instead, he has applied his skills in math and science to problems involving sound: studying humans’ contribution to noise in national parks, for example, and now, gunshot acoustics.

For him, it’s “a nice way to bridge the gap between the science and the sound.”

Anesthesia steals consciousness in stages

The brain doesn’t really go out like a light when anesthesia kicks in. Nor does neural activity gradually dim, a new study in monkeys reveals. Rather, intermittent flickers of brain activity appear as the effects of an anesthetic take hold.

Some synchronized networks of brain activity fall out of step as the monkeys gradually drift from wakefulness, the study showed. But those networks resynchronized when deep unconsciousness set in, researchers reported in the July 20 Journal of Neuroscience.
That the two networks behave so differently during the drifting-off stage is surprising, says study coauthor Yumiko Ishizawa of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. It isn’t clear what exactly is going on, she says, except that the anesthetic’s effects are a lot more complex than previously thought.

Most studies examining the how anesthesia works use electroencephalograms, or EEGs, which record brain activity using electrodes on the scalp. The new study offers unprecedented surveillance by eavesdropping via electrodes implanted inside macaque monkeys’ brains. This new view provides clues to how the brain loses and gains consciousness.

“It’s a very detailed description of something we know very little about,” says cognitive neuroscientist Tristan Bekinschtein of the University of Cambridge, who was not involved with the work. Although the study is elegant, it isn’t clear what to make of the findings, he says. “These are early days.”

Researchers from Massachusetts General, Harvard and MIT recorded the activity of small populations of nerve cells in two interconnected brain networks: one that deals with incoming sensory information and one involved with some kinds of movement, and with merging different kinds of information. Before the anesthetic propofol kicked in, brain activity in the two regions was similar and synchronized. But as the monkeys drifted off, the networks dropped out of sync, even though each networks’ own nerve cells kept working together.

Around the moment when the monkeys went unconscious, there was a surge in a particular kind of nerve cell activity in the movement network, followed by a different surge in the sensory network about two minutes later. The two networks then began to synchronize again, becoming more in lockstep as the anesthetic state deepened.

Female fish have a fail-safe for surprise sperm attacks

Some guys really know how to kill a moment. Among Mediterranean fish called ocellated wrasse (Symphodus ocellatus), single males sneak up on mating pairs in their nest and release a flood of sperm in an effort to fertilize some of the female’s eggs. But female fish may safeguard against such skullduggery through their ovarian fluid, gooey film that covers fish eggs.

Suzanne Alonzo, a biologist at Yale University, and her colleagues exposed sperm from both types of males to ovarian fluid from female ocellated wrasse in the lab. Nesting males release speedier sperm in lower numbers (about a million per spawn), while sneaking males release a lot of slower sperm (about four million per spawn). Experiments showed that ovarian fluid enhanced sperm velocity and motility and favored speed over volume. Thus, the fluid gives a female’s chosen mate an edge in the race to the egg, the researchers report August 16 in Nature Communications.

While methods to thwart unwanted sperm are common in species that fertilize within the body, evidence from Chinook salmon previously hinted that external fertilizers don’t have that luxury. However, these new results suggest otherwise: Some female fish retain a level of control over who fathers their offspring even after laying their eggs.

Evidence for new form of matter-antimatter asymmetry observed

Like two siblings with divergent personalities, a type of particle has shown signs of behaving differently than its antimatter partner. It’s the first time evidence of matter-antimatter differences have been detected in decays of a baryon — a category of particle that includes protons and neutrons. Such matter-antimatter discrepancies are key to explaining how the universe came to be made mostly of matter, scientists believe.

The result is “the first measurement of its kind,” says theoretical physicist Yuval Grossman of Cornell University. “Wow, we can actually see something that we’ve never seen before.”
Evidence of matter-antimatter differences in decays of baryons — particles which are composed of three smaller particles known as quarks — has eluded scientists until now. Previous experiments have found differences between matter and antimatter varieties of mesons, which are made up of one quark and one antiquark, but never in baryons.

For most processes, the laws of physics would be the same if matter were swapped with antimatter and the universe’s directions were flipped, as if reflected in a mirror. But when this principle, known as CP symmetry (for “charge parity”), is violated, matter and antimatter act differently. Now, scientists have found hints of CP violation in the decays of a particle known as a lambda-b baryon.

Scientists with the LHCb experiment, located at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, reported the result online September 16 at arXiv.org. They found that when the lambda-b baryon decays, the particles produced by the decay speed away at different angles and momenta for matter and antimatter versions of the baryon. (LHCb scientists declined to comment for this article, citing the embargo policy of Nature Physics, the journal to which the paper was submitted.)

After the Big Bang, the universe initially held equal parts antimatter and matter. But as the universe evolved, the laws of physics favored matter through CP violation, and antimatter became a rarity. Scientists’ well-tested theory of particle physics, the standard model, includes some CP violation, but not enough to explain the current imbalance. So physicists are searching for additional sources of the discrepancy.

It’s not surprising that differences in matter and antimatter appeared in baryons as well as mesons, says theoretical physicist David London of the University of Montreal. But precise measurements of baryons might eventually reveal deviations from the predictions of the standard model. Such a result could point the way to additional asymmetry that allowed the universe as we know it to form. “It’s just the first step, and hopefully there will be more such measurements,” says London.

How a ring of mountains forms inside a crater

Building mountains in minutes requires deep rocks and a big bang.

Rings of mountainous peaks sit inside large impact craters, but scientists weren’t sure how these features formed. One explanation proposed that these mountains form from deep rocks jolted to the surface by the impact. Another theory suggested that uplift caused surface rocks to congregate in heaps around the crater.

Rocks extracted from ground zero of the impact that devastated the dinosaurs have now resolved this debate. That crater’s peak ring is made up of deep rocks, researchers report in the Nov. 18 Science.
Confirming this explanation of peak ring formation will help scientists study the depths of other planets, says study coauthor Sean Gulick, a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin. It will also help better estimate the environmental damage wrought by the dinosaur-killing impact.、
“Unlike tectonic mountains that take millions of years to form, these mountains are made in less than 10 minutes,” Gulick says. Knowing the forces involved in sculpting those mountains will allow scientists to better estimate the total energy released during the catastrophic crash.
The Chicxulub impactor whacked into Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula around 66 million years ago, leaving behind a 200-kilometer-wide hole in the ground. Rising around 600 meters from the crater floor — though now buried under sediment – is the peak ring. While similar rings of mountains have been spotted inside large craters on other planetary bodies such as the moon and Mercury, Chicxulub is the only crater on Earth with an intact peak ring structure. And “it’s a lot cheaper to get to the one in Mexico,” Gulick says.

Last spring, Gulick and colleagues drilled into Chicxulub’s peak ring off the coast of Mexico using a special ship that can convert into a stable platform using three long legs. Rock samples, collected from about 750 to 1,300 meters below the seafloor, contained bits of granite and other minerals that would have been buried many kilometers belowground just before the impact. That means that the same process that built the peak ring must have churned those deep rocks to the surface, the researchers concluded.
That result does not mesh with the idea that the peak ring material instead came from much closer to the surface. Under that theory, after impact, surface material slides down the crater rim onto the floor. The middle of the floor then rebounds upward due to the removal of the weight of the overlying rock. That uplift shifts the fallen material, forming a peak ring.
Instead, the dynamic collapse theory of peak ring formation explains what happened at Chicxulub, researchers say. After the initial strike, churned-up material rushed in to fill the deep void left by the impact, like water when a stone is dropped into a pond. The flowing material met in the middle of the crater and surged upward into a towering central peak that then collapsed outward, dumping rocks previously buried several kilometers underground onto the crater’s surface.
These rocks became more porous and less dense during their dramatic rise, the researchers found. While typical deep rocks in the region have an average density of more than 2.6 grams per cubic centimeter, the peak ring rocks average just 2.41 grams per cubic centimeter and are heavily fractured.

“About 10 percent of the rock is pores, so there’s lots of space,” Gulick says. Microbes, he proposes, may have moved into those holes as life repopulated the impact site. Early life on Earth may have even gotten its first foothold in the porous rock inside similar impact craters, he speculates.

The high porosity of the Chicxulub rock could also explain why the moon’s crater-riddled crust is highly porous and help solve other planetary mysteries as well, says Ross Potter, a planetary scientist at Brown University.

“Impact craters are excavating material from depth, so they’re very good probes into the interior of planetary bodies,” he says. “You may be able to find very interesting samples that tell you a lot about not only the cratering process itself, but also the interior of the planet and how the planet formed.”

Scientific success depends on finding light in darkness

Without light, we cannot see. That’s why “dark galaxies” have eluded astronomers for so long. Two years ago, these star-starved entities were virtually unknown. But scientists now have better ways of seeing, even in dim conditions. New telescopes that can detect the faint light from these mysterious galaxies have enabled scientists to chalk up a considerable list: Dark galaxies seem to be much more common than anyone had thought. One rivals the Milky Way in size but holds only a hundredth as many stars.

Cataloging these dark galaxies, as Christopher Crockett reports (SN: 12/10/16, p. 18), is just the beginning. Scientists still don’t know how such galaxies might have formed or how their small populations of stars can fend off the gravitational grabs of other galaxies. Understanding dark galaxies will take more time and more intense study of their faint light.
Cleverly built telescopes may allow us to examine the cosmic darkness, but a different type of cleverness entirely is required to delve into the minds of animals. Specifically, researchers trying to understand the evolutionary roots of mathematics must resort to complex tests for evaluating how animals judge quantities, Susan Milius reports in “Animals give clues to the origins of human number crunching.” (SN: 12/10/16, p. 22).

Counting seems an all-too-human concept, and yet many creatures can reliably pick out a greater number of treats. Figuring out how animals are making such a choice (is it surface area? volume? number?) has frustrated researchers and occasionally triggered disagreements. But the latest studies show signs that many animals do have some quantitative sense, even if it’s far less sophisticated than our own.

Much less illuminating are the results that supposedly would have provided the final answer about heart health risks posed by the anti-inflammatory pain medicine Celebrex. Like Vioxx, which was taken off the market years ago after it was linked to heart problems, Celebrex (generic name celecoxib) is what’s known as a COX-2 inhibitor. Many experts were concerned that the problems with Vioxx might also show up in people who took Celebrex. But there were little data, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked for a large study to clear up the question. When the results were reported in November at a meeting of the American Heart Association, they brought little resolution, Laura Beil reports in “Popular painkiller doesn’t have more heart risks than others, study claims” (SN: 12/10/16, p. 6). Despite finding no elevated heart risk from Celebrex use, and fewer gastrointestinal side effects compared with ibuprofen and naproxen, the study was not done as cleverly as it needed to be. It enrolled people already at low risk of heart problems, for one. Dosages of medicines shifted during the long study. Many taking Celebrex dropped out before the study was completed. Far from settling the issue, the research leaves many questions unanswered.

In so many areas, science succeeds — seeing into the darkness, exploring the unknown and investigating fantastical ideas. But sometimes the signal is faint, the tools we use too crude, the logic shaky, the deeper understanding still elusive. That’s when scientists need to be more clever, more persistent, more wedded to reason and committed to revealing whatever truths can be found out there in the light.

Ebola vaccine proves effective, final trial results show

An experimental Ebola vaccine has triumphed in West Africa.

Of 5,837 people in Guinea who received a single shot of the vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV, in the shoulder, none became infected with the virus 10 to 84 days after vaccination. That’s “100% protection,” researchers report December 22 in the Lancet.

World Health Organization researcher Ana Maria Henao-Restrepo and colleagues tested a “ring vaccination” approach, by immediately vaccinating family members and other contacts of people infected with Ebola. This strategy seemed to staunch the virus’s spread. Among 4,507 people never vaccinated or who got a delayed vaccine, 23 contracted Ebola.

The findings echo preliminary results reported in 2015, and offer a promising line of defense for future outbreaks. But scientists still do not know how long-lasting the vaccine’s protection would be.

In late 2013, West Africa saw the beginning of what would become the largest Ebola outbreak in history, with more than 11,300 deaths reported, and 28,616 cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Since then, scientists have been racing to create a safe and effective vaccine.