Research Picks Weekly – 10 Jan 2018

Poverty test

The European Union has in place a method for acquiring statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) which assesses poverty levels and household well-being among its citizens. However, the system aggregates data only on an annual basis and as such does not take into account the short-term turbulence that might lead to prolonged issues for people. Researchers in Croatia have now taken a more pro-active approach to analyzing data to assess social and economic dimensions with respect to the wellbeing of EU households. They have tested their approach on 11 member states so far and demonstrated greater accuracy with one of three approaches tested than the annual analysis.

“Consumer surveys and the EU statistics on income and living conditions: friends or foes?” Mirjana Čižmešija, Petar Sorić, and Ivana Lolić, Int. J. Sustain Econ, 2018 Vol.10, No.1, pp.78 – 98; DOI: 10.1504/IJSE.2018.10009429

Keeping cool in the greenhouse

Many refrigerants, such as R-134a (1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane), are widely used in vending machines but are potent greenhouse gases and so a potential problem for overall carbon emissions and climate change. Legislation is in place to find replacements for the worst offenders and now a team from Kuwait and the USA has turned to one such replacement R-290, a refrigerant grade propane. They tested this material in a vending machine equipped with a single-stage compressor, four thermocouples, and a data log recorder and compared its pros and cons with R-134a. The team found that R-290 performs as well as R-134a but has the advantage of requiring almost a third less energy to keep products at the appropriate temperature. Moreover, 60% less refrigerant is needed for the job. R-290 could be an excellent replacement for R-134a, the team reports. The greatest benefit aside from the energy savings and reduction in materials needs is that the potential of R-134a in terms of global warming is 1300, whereas R-290 measures only 3. Its ozone depletion potential is zero.

“A study on the use of propane (R-290) in vending machines as a substitute for R-134a to minimise the global warming potential” Khaled A. Alkhaledi and Kenneth Means, Int. J. Global Warming, 2018 Vol.14, No.1, pp.131 – 141; DOI: 10.1504/IJGW.2018.10009448

Simplifying passwords

Passwords are a pain, they have to be complex enough to be hard to hack but increased entropy means they are harder to remember and not everyone is inclined to use or trust password management software to look after their logins. Biometrics have been the focus of much research in recent years in an attempt to find a simpler but more secure way of locking our accounts online and in applications. Now, researchers in Saudi Arabia and the USA are hoping to find an alternative to passwords without resorting to cumbersome biometric methods. Their one-time password protocol has three entry boxes instead of the standard one for a single password. The user enters three remembered words associated with their account into the boxes and the system scrambles them to preclude third-party intervention and uses the result as the one-time login for the website or application. This makes eavesdropping pointless and ineffectual while making it easy for the user to remember their “password” given that it is three simple words rather than complicated strings of characters. The protocol perhaps offers a simple method to implement the “horse-battery-staple” type of easy-to-remember, hard-to-guess password made famous by the XKCD cartoon number 936 (

Aljohani, N., Shelton, J. and Roy, K. ‘A secure one time password protocol schema’, Int. J. Information Privacy, Security and Integrity, 2017, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp.75–95; DOI: 10.1504/IJIPSI.2017.088689

Climate refugees

“There exists a lack of political will for states to take action or responsibility for climate refugees. This means that any future legal solutions that we consider must necessarily take the lack of international consensus into account,” that is the conclusion of a new paper from researchers in the USA. Climate refugees are people who have been forced from their homes and places of livelihood to seek refuge on foreign shores where they can escape the extenuating environmental circumstances of their homeland. Unfortunately, humanitarian law is failing to keep pace with this growing problem and laws that were adequate in the 1950s are no longer “fit for purpose” in the face of global warming, extreme weather, and natural disasters. “We must ensure a thoughtful and effective response to deal with this impending crisis,” the researchers suggest. “The existence of climate refugees requires international action within the framework of international humanitarian law.”

Kanodia, K. (2017) ‘Climate refugees and their ‘refugee’ status’, Int. J. Human Rights and Constitutional Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.102–110; DOI: 10.1504/IJHRCS.2017.088713

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.