7TH NOVEMBER CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Brown Carbon Tarballs

News: A study has highlighted that brown carbon ‘tarballs’ that fasten the glacial melting has been found in the Himalayan atmosphere.

Details:

  • Tarballs are small light-absorbing, carbonaceous particles formed due to burning of biomass or fossil fuels that deposit on snow and ice.
  • They hasten glacial melt.
  • They are formed from brown carbon, emitted during the burning of fossil fuels.
  • The median sizes of externally mixed tarballs and internally mixed tarballs were 213 and 348 nanometre respectively.
  • Primary brown carbon (BrC) co-emitted with black carbon (BC) from biomass burning is an important light-absorbing carbonaceous aerosol. The black carbon from the Indo-Gangetic Plain can reach the Himalaya region and influence glacial melting and climatic change.

Highlights of the study

  • Until now, black carbon was found to be transported long distances by the wind to the Himalayan atmosphere. The study revealed that a dense array of active fire spots — corresponding to large-scale wheat-residue burning on the Indo-Gangetic Plain — occurred along the pathways of Himalaya.
  • The percentage of the tarballs increased on days of higher levels of pollution and could contribute to the hastening of glacial melt and global warming.
  • The researchers concluded that tarballs from long-range transport can be an important factor in the climatic effect and would correspond to a substantial influence on glacial melting in the Himalaya region.

Concerns:

  • Tarballs from long-range transport can be an important factor in the climatic effect and would correspond to a substantial influence on glacial melting in the Himalaya region.

2. Fast Radio Bursts

News: NASA has reported that it observed a mix of X-ray and radio signals never observed before in the Milky Way.

What is an FRB?

  • The first FRB was discovered in 2007, since when scientists have been working towards finding the source of their origin.
  • Essentially, FRBs are bright bursts of radio waves (radio waves can be produced by astronomical objects with changing magnetic fields).
  • Its durations lie in the millisecond-scale, because of which it is difficult to detect them and determine their position in the sky.

Who discovered it?

  • The X-ray portion of the simultaneous bursts was detected by several satellites, including NASA’s Wind mission.
  • Further, a NASA-funded project called Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2 (STARE2) also detected the radio burst.

How are FRBs generated?

  • The new study has confirmed that FRBs are generated by a rare type of neutron star known as a ‘magnetar’.

What are Magnetars?

  • A magnetar is a type of neutron star.
  • Magnetars are the most powerful magnets in the cosmos. Their magnetic fields are 5,000 trillion times more powerful than that of the Earth.

Significance of this discovery:

  • The FRB was not only the closest such signal ever recorded near the Earth. It was also 3,000 times brighter than any other magnetar radio signal detected till now.

3. Height and BMI Trends

News: A recent study published in The Lancet, provides new estimates for height and Body Mass Index (BMI) trends in 2019 across 200 countries after analysing data from 2,181 studies. Height and BMI are anthropometric measures of the quality of nutrition and healthiness of the living environment during childhood and adolescence and are highly predictive of health and developmental outcomes throughout life. Anthropometry is the science of measuring the size and proportions of the human body.

Details:

  • Both height and BMI have increased from 1985 to 2019 although there is still a great deal of potential for height while curbing any future rise in obesity.
  • The height and BMI trajectories over age and time of school-aged children are highly variable across countries, which indicate heterogeneous nutritional quality and lifelong health advantages and risks.

Body Mass Index:

  • It is measured as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in metres.
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines define a normal BMI range as 18.5 to 24.9, overweight as 25 or higher, and obesity as 30 or higher.
  • India ranks third and fifth from the bottom respectively among countries where 19-year-old girls and boys have a low BMI. The mean BMI of 19-year-old boys is1 in India, compared to a high of 29.6 in the Cook Islands and a low of 19.2 in Ethiopia. The mean BMI for 19-year-old Indian girls is again 20.1, compared to a high of 29.0 in Tonga and a low of 19.6 in Timor-Leste.

Height:

  • The 20 cm or higher difference between countries with the tallest and shortest mean height represents approximately 8 years of growth gap for girls and approximately 6 years for boys.
  • For example, 19-year-old girls in India have the same mean height as 12-year-old Dutch girls.
  • The mean height of Indian 19-year-oldsis 5 cm for boys and 155.2 cm for girls, well below the high of Netherlands boys (183.8 cm) and girls (170 cm).

India specific findings:

  • The study has ranked India at the 196th spot with respect to BMI. India’s 19-year-old boys and girls have a BMI of 20.1. Comparatively, China ranks 88 with its boys having a BMI of 23 and 119 for its girls at 22.2.
  • India ranks third and fifth from the bottom respectively among countries where 19-year-old girls and boys have a low body mass index.
  • As BMI is a function of height, the corollary is that Indian teens are also among the shortest in the world.
  • The findings also contradict authorities claim that Indian children are not as malnourished or stunted as they used to be a decade ago. The study notes that poor nutrition may be the reason behind this.

4. Academic Freedom Index

News: India has scored considerably low in the international Academic Freedom Index (AFI) with a score of 0.352. Academic freedom, in general, refers to a scholar’s freedom to express ideas without risk of official interference or professional disadvantage.

About the Academic Freedom Index:

  • It has been published by Global Public Policy Institute as a part of a global time-series dataset (1900-2019) in close cooperation with Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, Scholars at Risk and the V‑Dem Institute.
  • It compares levels of academic freedom worldwide and enhances the understanding of its curtailments.
  • The AFI used eight components to evaluate the scores: freedom to research and teach, freedom of academic exchange and dissemination, institutional autonomy, campus integrity, freedom of academic and cultural expression, constitutional protection of academic freedom, international legal commitment to academic freedom under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and existence of universities.
  • The scores are scaled 0-1. The index did not report data for 35 countries – including the United States and Australia. Top Performers: Uruguay and Portugal top the AFI, with scores of 0.971 each, followed closely by Latvia (0.964) and Germany (0.960).

India’s performance:

  • India with a score of 0.352,is closely followed by Saudi Arabia (0.278) and Libya (0.238).
  • In the last five years, the AFI of India has dipped by 0.1 points.
  • Countries like Malaysia (0.582), Pakistan (0.554), Brazil (0.466), Somalia (0.436) and Ukraine (0.422) have scored better than India.
  • India has not fared well in components like institutional autonomy, campus integrity, freedom of academic and cultural expression and constitutional protection of academic freedom.
  • The AFI has cited the ‘Free to Think: Report of the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project’, to suggest that the political tensions in India may have something to do with declining ‘academic freedom’.
  • According to the Report, political tensions in India have led to violent altercations between students, security forces, and off-campus groups, and have driven legal actions and disciplinary measures against scholars critical of those in power.

Challenges for India

  • India fails to provide desired freedom to scholars to discuss politically and culturally controversial topics, without fearing for their life, studies or profession.
  • Most universities in the country are subjected to unsolicited interference from governments in both academic and non-academic issues. It is common knowledge by now that a majority of appointments, especially to top-ranking posts like that of vice-chancellors, pro vice-chancellors and registrars, have been highly politicized.
  • Political appointments not only choke academic and creative freedom, but also lead to corrupt practices, including those in licensing and accreditation.
  • At present, many educational institutions and regulatory bodies, both at the Central and State levels, are headed by bureaucrats.
  • Favouritism and nepotism in staff appointments and student admissions. This reflects a ‘rent-seeking culture’ within the academic community.
  • Rent-seeking is an economic concept that occurs when an entity seeks to gain added wealth without any reciprocal contribution of productivity. Typically, it revolves around government-funded social services and social service programs.

Solutions

Implementing New Education Policy (NEP) 2020:

  • The NEP 2020 claims that it is based on principles of creativity and critical thinking and envisions an education system that is free from political or external interference.
  • The policy states that faculty will be given the “freedom to design their own curricular and pedagogical approaches within the approved framework, including textbook and reading material selections, assignments and assessments”.
  • It also suggests constituting a National Research Foundation (NRF),a merit-based and peer-reviewed research funding, which “will be governed, independently of the government, by a rotating Board of Governors consisting of the very best researchers and innovators across fields”.
  • Further, it aims to de-bureaucratise the education system by giving governance powers to academicians. It talks about giving autonomy to higher education institutions by handing over their administration to a board comprising academicians.

Regulatory and Governance Reforms:

  • Restructure or merge different higher education regulators(UGC, AICTE, NCTE etc.) to ensure effective coordination. Amend UGC Act, 1956 to give legislative backing to regulatory structure.
  • Select Vice-Chancellors of universities through a transparent & objective process.
  • Link University grants to performance.