Notes and shorts from around the world
The science of standing desks
Advocates of standing desks claim that they bring all sorts of benefits, from reduced back pain to slimmer physiques, but have these been overstated? When scientists at the University of Bath asked 46 adults to either sit or stand for 20 minutes, they found that the standers burnt only 12% more calories in that time than the sitters – an amount that is not wholly insignificant, but is not enough to provide “clinically meaningful reductions in body fatness”. Using a standing desk for 60 minutes, the team estimates, would burn off nine calories, the equivalent of a stick of celery. Indeed, much of the evidence for standing desks does not withstand scrutiny. While studies have found a link between prolonged sitting and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, it is not clear that it is the sitting that is the problem. It could merely be indicative of other risks. For instance, unemployed people, who typically have worse than average health, also tend to spend more time sitting. So, do stand up to work if you prefer – but do not imagine that it is a form of exercise.
Decolonising the museum
Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa, long criticised for celebrating the country’s brutal colonial past, has reopened following a $125 million renovation and
a careful process of “decolonisation.” The renamed Africa Museum’s permanent collection, ranging from racist statues to stuffed animals, remains much the same. However, many of the artefacts have been reordered and given new wall texts exploring their history. There are also new displays, discussing colonialism’s impact and legacy. The museum was founded by King Leopold II, who took Congo as his personal fiefdom in the late 19th century, and turned it into a slave state in which millions of people perished. Many believe that the museum should not exist at all, and that most of its contents should be returned to Africa, a view reiterated by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Kabila recently.
Aged avian motherhood
The world’s oldest known wild bird, a Laysan albatross named Wisdom, looks set to become a mother again at the age of 68. For the nesting season,Wisdom has returned to the Midway Atoll Wildlife Refuge, a tiny USA island territory in the middle of the Pacific, where she was born. Should her latest egg with her mate Akeakamai hatch and take to the sea, it will be her 37th chick, according to US officials. Albatrosses are known for their long lifespans, and often outlive their researchers. Chandler Robbins, the biologist who first banded Wisdom, in 1956, died in 2017 aged 98.
“In human affairs there is no certain truth, and all our knowledge is but a woven web of guesses.” Xenophanes of Colophon, ancient Greek philosopher and poet
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