31/12/2017 9:30 PM IST

7 Important Stories Of 2017 That Slipped Under The Radar


We may live in an ever-more connected world, but some news still seems to pass us by.

And given this year’s wall-to-wall coverage of Brexit and Donald Trump’s constant Twitter proclamations, it’s unsurprising some important stories slipped under the radar. 

Here are seven stories of 2017 you should know more about.

1. How a Saudi Crown Prince purged his royal family rivals and turned the Ritz-Carlton into a prison

Handout . / Reuters
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman led a purge of family rivals and senior business people in November

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stunned Middle East observers with an unprecedented purge of his rivals in November.

The 32-year-old proclaimed the move to oust 320 prominent fellow royals and senior business figures as a stance against corruption. Critics say it was the final act of a sensational power grab, underway since his father King Salmon took power two years ago.

The Crown Prince believes that unless the country changes, especially regarding corruption, the economy will sink into a crisis that could lead to unrest. That could threaten the royal family and weaken the country in its regional rivalry with Iran, Reuters reported in a long-form piece in December.

The state, which is battling lower than expected revenues from its oil reserves and rocketing costs of a war with Yemen, hopes to earn as much as $100bn from the arrests.

The purge had another consequence: it turned the opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh into a prison. A letter delivered to guests staying there blamed an “unforeseen booking by local authorities” for cutting short their stays. And according to the state’s attorney general, some 159 of those ousted were housed in the hotel.

One detainee, a Saudi prince known as the “Arabian Warren Buffet”, was told he must pay up to $7billion to be released.

2. The EU ‘suppressed 300-page report that found piracy doesn’t harm sales’

artJazz via Getty Images
A report commissioned by the EU on internet piracy was only published in full after requests under freedom of information laws

A report commissioned by the EU to determine the impact of internet piracy on the sales of music, books and films, was kept secret - in a move campaigners suggest was intended to bury its findings.

Julia Reda, who represents the Pirate Party of Germany, said the May 2015 paper was delivered to the European Commission but never published in full.

The €360,000 document was only released when the German MEP submitted a freedom of information request.

Reda wrote on her blog in September: “The study’s conclusion[?] With the exception of recently released blockbusters, there is no evidence to support the idea that online copyright infringement displaces sales.”

3. Why India planted 66 million trees in 12 hours

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Workers plant neem and other seeds as part of a re-forestation project to help stop rainwater flows in Madhya Pradesh, India, in 2016

India broke its own world record this summer for the number of trees planted across a central state in 12 hours.

A whopping 66 million seedlings were bedded down by volunteers - trouncing the country’s previous record of 50 million in 2016.

Some 1.5 million people helped during the event in the state of Madhya Pradesh as part of an effort to re-introduce greenery lost over years of industrial development.

At the Paris climate change conference, India pledged to increase forest cover to 95 million hectares, or 235 million acres, by year 2030.

The initiative will also improve rainwater flows - helping to ease the effect of perilous flooding.

4. Scientists describe problems with Big Tobacco firm’s e-cigarette experiments

TOLGA AKMEN via Getty Images
Scientists have described problems with research into the use of e-cigarettes

Scientists with knowledge of studies into the effects of using e-cigarettes designed and manufactured by a Big Tobacco firm have spoken out about “irregularities” with the research.

Philip Morris, one of the World’s biggest cigarette manufacturers, is currently attempting to persuade US regulators to approve a new e-cig device it claims could reduce exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. 

By heating tobacco instead of burning it, Philip Morris says its device, known as iQOS, avoids subjecting smokers to the same levels of carcinogens and other toxic substances found in a regular cigarette. 

According to Reuters, the company has spent more than $3 billion developing new smoking platforms like iQOS. As part of that initiative, Philip Morris has published extensive scientific findings, based in part on clinical studies.

The news agency found one researcher did not seek the correct permissions ahead of a medical trial, while another submitted urine samples which exceeded the amount a human being is capable of producing.

After reviewing Reuters’ findings, Philip Morris said in a statement that “all studies were conducted by suitably qualified and trained Principal Investigators”.

The company said it understands that “[US food and drug administration] inspectors have already audited some facilities” involved in the trials. Philip Morris also said it had taken steps to address “any reported irregularity in our studies”.

Read the full report here.

5. Spotify has killed the long song intro

Alessia Pierdomenico / Reuters
Brit band The Arctic Monkeys have several songs with intros over 30 seconds

The innovation of music streaming has brought myriad benefits to millions - and reduced the need to purchase every song outright.

But it’s also led to a change in how music producers make money. Spotify, one of the biggest music streaming services, only pays out when a song is played for more than 30 seconds.

That means artists must work harder in the first few seconds to keep listeners’ interested and playing past half a minute. The era of the long song intro may be over.

Classic songs with long intros include: She Looks Good On The Dancefloor by the Arctic MonkeysLose Yourself by Eminem; Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses; and Common People by Pulp.

6. Shell speaks out over North Sea oil rig plans 

SCOTT HEPPELL via Getty Images
The view out to Shell's Brent Delta Topside offshore oil drilling rig near Hartlepool

Oil giant Shell sparked controversy earlier this year when it suggested a plan to decommission former North Sea oil rigs would mean huge concrete platforms would be left to rot.

But the firm has now responded to the furore over the proposals to say it has “listened” to concerns, suggesting a new approach to removing the rigs will be taken.

The decommissioning of the Brent rigs in the North Sea comes as the vast area ends its life as an active oil field.

The rigs were constructed in the 1970s and lent their name to the trade of Brent Crude oil across the world.

But as their useful life ends, the government must now work with oil giants to determine what to do next. One plan touted by Shell would have seen the metal rigs disposed of, but their huge concrete plinths remain.

Environmentalists and fishing experts criticised the proposal.

The company has since told the BBC that it is has listened to the concerns raised and that “it is possible to have derogations” from the original plan.

7. Why Climate Change is making hurricane season worse

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
A home in ruins on the island of Barbuda after Hurricane Irma struck in September

2017 seemed like the year of extreme weather events.

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey dominated discussion over the summer about our preparedness and ability to cope with increasingly tumultuous weather.

But they also spurred discussion over the cause of apparently worsened volatility - and whether it is related to climate change.

And as one climate scientist told Time magazine, there’s one fact that could prove crucial to understanding what is going on.

“A warmer ocean makes a warmer atmosphere, a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture,” said Gabriel Vecchi, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University who studies extreme weather events. “So, all other things equal, the same storm in a warmer planet would give you more rainfall.”

Read the full story here.

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