biology (17)

Dilemma...

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Green Book Blog: The Technology Dilemma, Zoë Dowling

 

Topics: Biology, Chemistry, COVID-19, Nanotechnology, Physics, Research, STEM


As the coronavirus outbreak roils university campuses across the world, early-career scientists are facing several dilemmas. Many are worrying about the survival of cell cultures, laboratory animals, and other projects critical to their career success. And some are reporting feeling unwelcome pressure to report to their laboratories—even if they don’t think it’s a good idea, given that any gathering can increase the risk of spreading the virus.

It’s unclear exactly how common these concerns are, but social media posts reveal numerous graduate students expressing stress and frustration at requests to come to work. “Just emailed adviser to say I am not comfortable breaking self isolation to come to lab this week. They emailed … saying I have to come in. What do I do?” tweeted an anonymous Ph.D. student on 16 March who doesn’t have essential lab work scheduled. “My health & safety should NOT be subject to the whims of 1 person. It should NOT be this scary/hard to stand up for myself.”

Many universities, including Harvard, have moved to shut down all lab activities except for those that are deemed “essential,” such as maintaining costly cell lines, laboratory equipment, live animals, and in some cases, research relating to COVID-19. But others have yet to ban nonessential research entirely.

 

Amid coronavirus shutdowns, some grad students feel pressure to report to their labs
Michael Price, Science Magazine, AAAS

I feel their pain.


The Scientific Method is very simple in concept:

Problem research - This involves gathering data in the form of previous written papers, published and peer-reviewed; writing notes (for yourself), summaries and reviews.

Hypothesis - This is your question asked from all the research, discussion with your adviser, especially if it's a valid question to ask or research to pursue.

Test the hypothesis - Design of experiment (s) to verify the hypothesis.

Data analysis - Usually with a software package, and a lot of statistical analysis.

Conclusion - Does it support the hypothesis?

- If so, retest several times, to plot an R squared fit of the data, so predictions can be made.

- If not, form another hypothesis and start over.

Often, conclusions are written up for peer review to be considered for journal publication. No one ever gets in on first submission - get used to rejection. Conclusions will be challenged by subject matter experts that may suggest other factors to consider, or another way to phrase something. Eventually, you get published. You can then submit an abstract to present a poster and a talk at a national conference.

Meeting Cancellation

It is with deep regret that we are informing you of the cancellation of the 2020 APS March Meeting in Denver, Colorado. APS leadership has been monitoring the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) constantly. The decision to cancel was based on the latest scientific data being reported, and the fact that a large number of attendees at this meeting are coming from outside the US, including countries where the CDC upgraded its warning to level 3 as recently as Saturday, February 29.

 

APS Physics: March.APS/about/coronavirus/


Update on Coronavirus

The health and safety of MRS members, attendees, staff, and community are our top priority. For this reason, we are canceling the 2020 MRS Spring Meeting scheduled for April 13-17, 2020, in Phoenix.

With our volunteers, we are exploring options for rescheduling programming to an upcoming event. We will share more information as soon as it becomes available.

 

MRS: Materials Research Society/2020-Spring Meeting


Social distancing and "shelter-in-place" slows the scientific enterprise. Science is in-person and worked out with other humans in labs and libraries. However, I am in support of this action and reducing the impact on the healthcare industry that on normal days are dealing with broken bones, gunshot wounds; cancer and childbirth surgeries with anxious, expectant mothers.

The dilemma is the forces that would reject the science behind this pandemic (and most science in any endeavor), would have us all "go back to work" after two weeks. The curve we're trying to flatten could sharply spike. The infection rates would increase and otherwise healthy people would be stricken. Immunodeficient groups would start getting sick again ...dying again. Our infrastructure is not designed for that many sick or dead people. Science continues with our survival and societal stability.

The persons with the solutions might be chomping-at-the-bit at home for now. Survival insures science will continue ...someday.
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Social Distancing...

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Every square centimeter packed

 

Topics: Biology, Civics, Civil Rights, Existentialism


I shopped and bought the supplies you see above for the suggested "hunker down." It's the most I've ever purchased at one time in a grocery store. Missing from the pile of food, meat and cleaning supplies is hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Amazon is out, with delivery projections of off-brand toilet paper mid April, according to a college friend on lock down in California. Though I don't own a dog anymore, I observed dog food was missing from the shelves. The city is on limited hours from 10 am to 3 pm. The suggested crowd assemblies dwindled swiftly from 500 - 300 - 100 to 10 or less. There will likely be no spring commencement. Susan Rice was to be our keynote speaker, and I was going to attend to congratulate newly-minted Doctors of Philosophy.

My classes went online almost immediately through Blackboard. It was kind of cute to see my professors struggling and fully admitting they've never taught an online class before. The fact that they were lecturing was a departure from previous experiences, typically PowerPoint slides uploaded to Canvas (another college app), chapters read and a test proctored. That was my experience with it before. There's a video app: Zoom that I used to view a Ph.D. defense and a seminar on writing. My tiny house seems at comparison to my mobility before, smaller ...

I took a walk today in the neighborhood. Teleworking tends to drive one "stir crazy." I saw a family that lives across the street from me playing with her son in the street. She was accompanied by her brother, his girlfriend, her kids and their mother. The brother and his family had moved into the neighborhood. I said hello, mouthing a few brief remarks. I was friendly ...at a distance.

I continued walking.

A jogger passed by me on my right. A couple walked by on my left: I spoke briefly. I still walked.

A neighbor said "did anyone tell you you look like Charles Barkley?" I smiled: I've heard it before, and said "I wish I had his salary!" We laughed. I said it ...at a distance.

I continued walking.

A read on my phone about a few young spring breakers determined to party in Florida, full of the invulnerability of youth. They're not practicing social distancing, or good sense.

Italy passed a grim marker in the number of infected and deaths. I'm sure we're trying not to copy-exact this aspect of what was the Roman Empire in these modern times where the globe is no longer vast, and the oceans not the barriers they once were.

Columbus Day may not get as much attention as our other holidays, but scientists are still fascinated by what Christopher Columbus’ arrival meant for the “New World” and how it shaped where we are today.

“It was a culture clash, obviously,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “But it also launched a clash of infectious diseases.”

Columbus and other visitors from Europe lived in agrarian societies and cities, he said. The viruses and bacteria that develop in farming and when large groups of people live together are different from those in a more nomadic society, like the American Indians.

Think about swine flu and bird flu, Prescott said. We’re always on the lookout for viruses that pass from humans to animals, mutate DNA, and then return to humans.

“Well, that didn’t just start last year. So long as humans have been raising livestock, we’ve been passing viruses back and forth,” he said. “When explorers from Europe reached the Americas, they brought livestock and they brought diseases and the result was devastating.”

In Hispaniola, Columbus’ first stop in the Americas, the native Taino population (an indigenous Arawak people) had no immunity to new infectious diseases, including smallpox, measles and influenza. There were an estimated 250,000 indigenous people in Hispaniola in 1492. By 1517, only 14,000 remained.

Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation: Columbus brought more than ships to the New World, October 10, 2013

Also:

Related link: Coronavirus statistics

Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492
Alexander Koch, Chris Brierley, Mark M. Maslin, Simon L. Lewis
Quaternary Science Reviews
Volume 207, 1 March 2019, Pages 13-36


The conversation that hasn't been had: we're seeing not just the impact of a zoological virus from bat to human, we're seeing the impact of a globalization protocol that's been in place since 1492. The bats are in China, but bats are on every continent. The trade agreements we've negotiated for cheap labor also meant the ones in charge of the labor pool ignored (or, weren't pressed to follow) OSHA and safety regulations we take for granted. The "chickens [were eventually going to] come home to roost" because human society as far as temporal considerations is episodic. We think of the quarter, the end-of-year, the holiday push and financial goals higher than last years. We think of stock dividends and investor sentiments; use bailout money to buy back stocks and artificially pump up the value of their companies. This selloff on Wall Street has simply been an adjustment from the previous superfluous bullshit. My trip to Texas to see our granddaughter, relatives and friends; my wife's annual girlfriends' trip, our sons trip to Greensboro have all been put on hold indefinitely to flatten the curve.

I walked alone ...home, continuing social distancing.

 

Related link: Coronavirus statistics

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Crowd Sourcing...

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Image Source: Semantics Scholar link below

 

Topics: Biology, Existentialism, Politics


Note: As I'm getting my sea legs in online classes, the blog will post not at the normal times because these aren't normal times. My karate instructor from undergrad is a cancer survivor: his doctor has him in isolation as COVID-19 can be exacerbated by immunodeficient systems. In addition, his wife and daughter just came back from overseas and are in isolation. He has relatives visiting him, though.

A brief I wrote my first year of graduate school for a class called Nano Safety (excerpt):

From an article in Nature: Education, it posits that viruses are not ‘alive’ in a sense they don’t have metabolic processes, one of the four criteria for life (“organized, metabolism, genetic code, and reproduction”) as discussed in class, 24 August 2017. There are three possible mechanisms to origins. The Progressive Hypothesis: “bits and pieces” of a genome gained the ability to move in and out of cells (retroviruses like HIV given as an example). The Regressive Hypothesis: meaning the viruses evolved from some common ancestor to their current state. The Virus-First Hypothesis: that viruses existed before mortals as “self-replicating units.”

1. Where did viruses come from? Ed Rybicki, Virologist from the University of Cape Town in South Africa

2. The Origins of Viruses, By David R. Wessner, Ph.D. (Dept. of Biology, Davidson College) © 2010 Nature Education, Citation: Wessner, D. R. (2010) The Origins of Viruses. Nature Education 3(9):37

My wife and I suffer allergies during this time of year. Out of an abundance of caution, we attempted to have her tested for COVID-19. The doctor surmised she didn't have any symptoms of Coronavirus, but the inventory of test kits from the CDC is what really troubled me: ONE. Only if you meet the stringent requirement of damned-near death's door will anyone get the test. Then, the doctor will order another SINGULAR test.

Conclusion: Our numbers are being held down artificially.

We're sheltered in-place. I'm calling and texting friends to check on them.

North Carolina now has 63 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, but that's for those who met the criteria and GOT the singular test kit evaluation.

All of us are literally on our own.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Allen Institute for AI has partnered with leading research groups to prepare and distribute the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), a free resource of over 29,000 scholarly articles, including over 13,000 with full text, about COVID-19 and the coronavirus family of viruses for use by the global research community.

This dataset is intended to mobilize researchers to apply recent advances in natural language processing to generate new insights in support of the fight against this infectious disease. The corpus will be updated weekly as new research is published in peer-reviewed publications and archival services like bioRxiv, medRxiv, and others.

 

Semantics Scholar: COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19)

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Off World Concerns...

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NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner are the next crewmembers scheduled to launch to the International Space Station.
(Image: © NASA)

 

Topics: Biology, NASA, International Space Station, Space Exploration


The procedure to ensure that astronauts don't bring an illness to the International Space Station is under evaluation as NASA enacts tactics to help slow the spread of the novel-coronavirus disease COVID-19.

Governments and agencies around the world have been enacting measures meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus; those measures include social distancing and quarantines for people who think they may have been exposed to the virus. But these tactics aren't new territory for NASA astronauts, who take such measures to prepare for close-quarter, secluded living that can last six months or longer.

 

With coronavirus spreading, NASA may tweak astronaut prelaunch quarantine plans
Doris Elin Urrutia, Space.com

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Proto Nanotechnologist...

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Professor George Washington Carver, Tuskegee University, History.com 


Topics: African Americans, Biology, Diversity, Diversity in Science, Nanotechnology


Part of being in nanotechnology is you get to exercise a bit of creativity and invention. Research is about looking into an area that people know something about, reading a LOT of papers and formulating your own ideas about an approach to a subject. You may either fail miserably at first, or successfully bring about something novel.

George Washington Carver I'm referring to as a proto nanotechnologist. Planting peanuts, soy and sweat potatoes replaced nitrogen other plants like cotton leached from the soil. Though this crop rotation method (introduced by Carver) gave the farmers high yields on the produce they were used to selling, it had the unintended consequence of giving them a surplus of produce for which, there had previously been no market. Carver would go on to invent 300 uses for the peanut, one of which, peanut butter he surprisingly DIDN'T, though I'm sure you've eaten unless you have allergies. If it weren't for him, the farmers in the south would have gone out of business due to a boll weevil infestation that decimated cotton throughout the south. It was a fortuitous confluence of events.

It is in this spirit and the month, I salute Professor George Washington Carver, and hopefully emulate him in my chosen field of making meaning of small things.

George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist and inventor who developed hundreds of products using peanuts (though not peanut butter, as is often claimed), sweet potatoes and soybeans. Born an African American slave a year before slavery was outlawed, Carver left home at a young age to pursue education and would eventually earn a master’s degree in agricultural science from Iowa State University. He would go on to teach and conduct research at Tuskegee University for decades, and soon after his death his childhood home would be named a national monument — the first of its kind to honor an African American.

Born on a farm near Diamond, Missouri, the exact date of Carver’s birth is unknown, but it’s thought he was born in January or June of 1864.

Nine years prior, Moses Carver, a white farm owner, purchased George Carver’s mother Mary when she was 13 years old. The elder Carver reportedly was against slavery, but needed help with his 240-acre farm.

When Carver was an infant, he, his mother and his sister were kidnapped from the Carver farm by one of the bands of slave raiders that roamed Missouri during the Civil War era. They were sold in Kentucky.

Moses Carver hired a neighbor to retrieve them, but the neighbor only succeeded in finding George, whom he purchased by trading one of Moses’ finest horses. Carver grew up knowing little about his mother or his father, who had died in an accident before he was born.

 

George Washington Carver, Editors, History.com

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Xenobots...

 

Topics: Applied Physics, Biology, Nanotechnology, Robotics


A team of researchers have built what they claim to be the first living robots. The “xenobots,” they say, can move, pick up objects, and even heal themselves after being cut.

The team is hoping the biological machines could one day be used to clean up microplastics in the ocean or even deliver drugs inside the human body, The Guardian reports.

To build the robots, the team used living cells from frog embryos and assembled them into primitive beings.

“These are novel living machines,” research co-lead Joshua Bongard, robotics expert at the University of Vermont, said in a statement. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”

The millimeter-length robots were designed by a supercomputer running an “evolutionary algorithm” that tested thousands of 3D designs for rudimentary life forms inside a simulation. The scientists then built a handful of the designs, which were able to propel themselves forward or fulfill a basic task inside the simulation using tweezers and cauterizing tools.

The tiny robots had about a week to ten days of “power” courtesy of living heart muscle cells that were able to expand and contract on their own.

 

Scientists Build “First Living Robots” From Frog Stem Cells
Victor Tangermann, Futurism

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Protocells...

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This scanning electron microscope image was taken of artificial “protocells” created at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials, which have the ability to convert light to chemical energy through the use of a light-harvesting membrane. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

 

Topics: Alternative Energy, Battery, Biology, Green Tech, Nanotechnology


By replicating biological machinery with non-biological components, scientists have found ways to create artificial cells that accomplish a key biological function of converting light into chemical energy.

In a study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, scientists created cell-like hollow capsule structures through the spontaneous self-assembly of hybrid gold-silver nanorods held together by weak interactions. By wrapping these capsules’ walls with a light-sensitive membrane protein called bacteriorhodopsin, the researchers were able to unidirectionally channel protons from the interior of the artificial cells to the external environment.

“Nature uses compartmentalization to accomplish biological functions because it brings in close vicinity the ingredients needed for chemical reactions,” said Argonne nanoscientist Elena Rozhkova, a corresponding author of the study. ​“Our goal was to replicate nature, yet use inanimate materials to probe how cells accomplish their biological tasks.”

 

Scientists harvest energy from light using bio-inspired artificial cells
Jared, Sagoff, Argonne National Laboratory

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Snake Oil...

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Image Source: Link below


Topics: Biology, DNA, Genetics


"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Carl Sagan

I'm guessing "I did Ancestry" is going to become the "I used to do Amway" in the 21st Century?

I participated, thinking it was legitimate science. It did somewhat jive with my own experiences of being consistently identified by Nigerians as resembling someone from the Igbo. This again is pure conjecture, and likely only a polite guess.
 

I can see the desire to know about our roots, especially if you're a part of the African Diaspora is tempting as well as an opportunity for confidence rackets and quackery.

In the spring of 2017, a college student named Mary spit into a tube and sent it to the DNA testing company Ancestry, which analyzed it and sent back a breakdown of her family history.

But Mary wanted to know more. The human genome contains, in theory, an extraordinary wealth of pre-programmed information about who we are and who we might become: whether she was at risk for the same types of cancer that killed her parents, for instance, or if she had medical conditions she could unknowingly pass on to her children.

For that information, Mary — we’re withholding her last name to protect her privacy — turned to a dubious new sector of the genomics industry, in which startups claim to provide vastly greater insights than prominent companies like Ancestry and 23andMe do. She uploaded a copy of her raw genetic code, which Ancestry provided as a 17.6 megabyte text file, to a site called Genomelink, which advertises tests for everything from medical conditions and mental illnesses to ludicrously specific personality traits including “loneliness,” “social communication problems,” and “vulnerability to helicopter parenting.”

But when her results arrived, Mary immediately noticed that many were “wildly inaccurate.” Genomelink said she was “less easily depressed,” but Mary was diagnosed with clinical depression at a young age. The startup predicted that she had a peanut allergy, but Mary told Futurism that “peanut butter is one of the true loves of my life.” Other errors in Mary’s report included traits like blood iron levels, body fat measurements, hearing problems, height, and skin complexion.

“I felt that much of it was off-base and unhelpful,” she told Futurism, “as it didn’t fit me at all.”

Genomelink is just one of a growing number of shady DNA testing startups now operating in the regulatory Wild West of commercial genomics.

There’s GenePlaza, for instance, which sold a DNA test that claimed to predict users’ sexual preferences — and still sells tests that purport to measure intelligence and risk of depression. A company called Soccer Genomics claims to examine a child’s DNA to create a sports training regimen to turn them into the perfect soccer player. An outfit called GenoPalate told a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter that their DNA demanded a diet of elk meat and passion fruit. A venture called Vinome claims it can recommend the perfect wine for each person based on their genetic code.

The problem, according to experts, is that these companies are promising information about DNA with a granularity that even scientists can’t deliver. Deanna Church, a geneticist at the biotech company Inscripta, told Futurism the tests are “all equally useless.”

“There is not a scientific basis for this sort of testing,” she said. “I certainly would not recommend anyone spend any money on this sort of thing.”

 

"Like Horoscope Readings!": The Scammy World of DNA Startups, Dan Robitzki, Futurism

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Pandora's Box...

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MS TECH / SOURCE PHOTO: GETTY

 

Topics: Biology, Biotechnology, Civics, Ethics, Existentialism


A private DNA ancestry database that’s been used by police to catch criminals is a security risk from which a nation-state could steal DNA data on a million Americans, according to security researchers.

Security flaws in the service, called GEDmatch, not only risk exposing people’s genetic health information but could let an adversary such as China or Russia create a powerful biometric database useful for identifying nearly any American from a DNA sample.

GEDmatch, which crowdsources DNA profiles, was created by genealogy enthusiasts to let people search for relatives and is run entirely by volunteers. It shows how a trend toward sharing DNA data online can create privacy risks affecting everyone, even people who don’t choose to share their own information.

“You can replace your credit card number, but you can’t replace your genome,” says Peter Ney, a postdoctoral researcher in computer science at the University of Washington.

Ney, along with professors and DNA security researchers Luis Ceze and Tadayoshi Kohno, described in a report posted online how they developed and tested a novel attack employing DNA data they uploaded to GEDmatch.

 

The DNA database used to find the Golden State Killer is a national security leak waiting to happen
Antonio Regalado, Technology Review

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Adaption and Extinction...

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Source: Internet Movie Database

 

Topics: Biology, Climate Change, Existentialism, Philosophy, Politics


Though the movie poster is an attempt at dark humor, I do agree with the science. We're in a time of our history where science is being suborned to political and economic considerations, when we need it literally for survival.


From a biological perspective, there is no such thing as devolution. All changes in the gene frequencies of populations--and quite often in the traits those genes influence--are by definition evolutionary changes. The notion that humans might regress or "devolve" presumes that there is a preferred hierarchy of structure and function--say, that legs with feet are better than legs with hooves or that breathing with lungs is better than breathing with gills. But for the organisms possessing those structures, each is a useful adaptation.

Chief among these misconceptions is that species evolve or change because they need to change to adapt to shifting environmental demands; biologists refer to this fallacy as teleology. In fact, more than 99 percent of all species that ever lived are extinct, so clearly there is no requirement that species always adapt successfully. As the fossil record demonstrates, extinction is a perfectly natural--and indeed quite common--response to changing environmental conditions. When species do evolve, it is not out of need but rather because their populations contain organisms with variants of traits that offer a reproductive advantage in a changing environment.

 

Is the human race evolving or devolving? July 20, 1998, Scientific American

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The Lightness of Stupidity...

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Anti-evolution books on sale during the Scopes "Monkey Trial" in 1925. Credit: Getty Images

 

Topics: Biology, Civics, Climate Change, Education, Science, Research

History.com: Scopes Monkey Trial


Nearly a quarter of a million science teachers are hard at work in public schools in the United States, helping to ensure that today’s students are equipped with the theoretical knowledge and the practical know-how they will need to flourish in tomorrow’s world. Ideally, they are doing so with the support of the lawmakers in their state’s legislatures. But in 2019 a handful of legislators scattered across the country introduced more than a dozen bills that threaten the integrity of science education.

It was a mixed batch, to be sure. In Indiana, Montana and South Carolina, the bills sought to require the misrepresentation of supposedly controversial topics in the science classroom, while in North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, their counterparts were content simply to allow it. Meanwhile, bills in Connecticut, Florida and Iowa aimed beyond the classroom, targeting supposedly controversial topics in the state science standards and (in the case of Florida) instructional materials.

Despite their variance, the bills shared a common goal: undermining the teaching of evolution or climate change. Sometimes it is clear: the one in Indiana would have allowed local school districts to require the teaching of a supposed alternative to evolution, while the Montana bill would have required the state’s public schools to present climate change denial. Sometimes it is cloaked in vague high-sounding language about objectivity and balance, requiring a careful analysis of the motives of the sponsors and supporters.

Either way, though, such bills would frustrate the purpose of public science education. Students deserve to learn about scientific topics in accordance with the understanding of the scientific community. With the level of acceptance of evolution among biomedical scientists at 99 percent, and the level of acceptance of climate change among climate scientists not far behind at 97 percent, it is a disservice to students to misrepresent these theoretically and practically important topics as scientifically controversial.
 

 

Science Education Is Under Legislative Attack, Glen Branch, Scientific American

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The Whims of Tyche...

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Fossil of trilobite that evolved following the mid-Ordovician ice age. | Birger Schmitz

 

Topics: Asteroids, Astronomy, Biology, Planetary Science


Tyche: Modern Greek: [ˈti.çi] "luck"; Roman equivalent: Fortuna) was the presiding tutelary deity who governed the fortune and prosperity of a city, its destiny. In Classical Greek mythology, she is the daughter of Aphrodite and Zeus or Hermes. Source: Wikipedia

Dust from the breakup of a 150-kilometer- (93 mile) diameter asteroid may have caused — or at least intensified — an ice age half a billion years ago, providing the impetus for a sweeping array of aquatic animal adaptations that shaped today's spectacularly diverse ocean ecosystems, according to a new study published in the September 20 issue of Science Advances.

The authors uncovered extraterrestrial material in sediments that correlate the timing of asteroid breakup with a major dip in sea level frequently attributed to the onset of the Mid-Ordovician ice age. Their findings suggest that asteroid dust may have settled in Earth's atmosphere, shading the planet from the sun's radiation and cooling global temperatures.

While extraterrestrial dust only accounts for about one percent of the modern atmosphere and does not impact the climate, large quantities of dust lingering for several hundred thousand years or more would be expected to cause global cooling.

"This is the first time anyone has shown that asteroid breakups and asteroid dust can lead to ice ages," said Birger Schmitz, a professor of geology at Lund University in Sweden and the first author of the study. "This is also the first time since the discovery of the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs that an important event in the history of life has been tied to an astronomical event."

 

Asteroid Dust May Have Triggered Ice Age and Sea Life Explosion
Shannon Kelleher, American Association for the Advancement of Science

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Herd Immunity...

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Everyone who was in the Fullerton, CA, movie theater, not just those at the "Avengers" screening, may have been exposed to the contagious disease. (Source: CDC/Twitter, KCRG)

 

Topics: Biology, Civil Rights, Human Rights


Normally, I save this type of commentary for Fridays, but...

As measles cases rise, more vaccine exemptions are being demanded by parents concerned about government control or worried about the now-debunked link between immunization and autism.

This year’s back-to-school season coincides with the worst measles resurgence that the nation has seen since the disease was declared “eliminated” nearly two decades ago.

At least 1,241 people — many of them school-age children — contracted the viral infection across 31 states so far this year, according to the most recent count by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which called it the highest number of reported cases in nearly a generation. [1]

Here's what I was looking for:

Measles was declared eliminated (absence of continuous disease transmission for greater than 12 months) from the United States in 2000. This was thanks to a highly effective vaccination program in the United States, as well as better measles control in the Americas region. [2]

The declaration was a bit hyperbole and grandiose: we again, increased the likelihood of protection from it via herd immunity.

You can reduce the incident of things when you respect the science.

This resurgence of measles, with an R0 of 18 versus Ebola's R0 of 2 - is due to the rampant conspiracy theories spread online and hyped by celebrities that has impacted herd immunity - simply, if 95% of the population go for their vaccinations, it protects the 55 or so that for various reasons good only to them, refuse to get them.

When the numbers increase in the un-vaccinated and the numbers decrease in the vaccinated, you have the situation we're currently not enjoying.

This lack of respect for science has analogies: climate change and mass shootings.

In each case, there is a disrespect for the science that preceded any announced conclusions. In the case of climate change, it enjoys the same treatment the cigarette industry used to sow doubt (and in many cases, the same PR and law firms to do it).

With gun lobbyists that did NOT exist at the founding of the country, science is discouraged and the useless channeling of 'thoughts and prayers" follows any massacre, as if they know our attention spans are fleeting and the carnage has already been factored into their business models.

Though it thought triumphant in 2000 to declare ourselves measles-free, this predates 9/11 when our sense of safety was ripped away like a scab of useless flesh. Fear gripped the nation and irrationality became the norm. Fear of the "other" drove gun sales then, and they always will.

My "societal inoculation" to reduce (not eliminate) gun violence:

1. License and insurance - this logical step is resisted by the aforementioned gun lobbyists as the "slippery slope" to totalitarianism, yet no one has proposed we NOT regulate vehicle or business licenses.

2. Universal background checks - of in-store and straw one-to-one purchases.

3. Buy-back programs to those that don't want to go through the hassle of 1 or 2.

4. Confiscation - for the knuckleheads that will invariably try to go out in a "blaze of glory."

No one law or set of laws will eliminate gun violence any more than one vaccine, even at 95% herd immunity will totally eliminate a disease: it simply reduces its frequency; the current R0 for guns has to be around the mid thirties.

The above is slightly better than the thoughts and prayers that haven't traversed higher than the myriad ceiling under which they have been uttered.

 

1. Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of kids are going to school unvaccinated, Jayme Fraser, The Columbus Dispatch
2, Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Measles History

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Relics of Entropy...

 

Topics: Biology, Entropy, Existentialism, Futurism


I've passed all my courses and now have the task of putting my Thesis together. I'm anticipating a successful completion from a good start.

My granddaughter is as well, with a good family (I'm biased) surrounded by a support system of extended friends and close relatives.

I'm understandably concerned by headlines like these:

Up to one million plant and animal species face extinction, many within decades, because of human activities, says the most comprehensive report yet on the state of global ecosystems.

Without drastic action to conserve habitats, the rate of species extinction — already tens to hundreds of times higher than the average across the past ten million years — will only increase, says the analysis. The findings come from a United Nations-backed panel called the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

According to the report, agricultural activities have had the largest impact on ecosystems that people depend on for food, clean water and a stable climate. The loss of species and habitats poses as much a danger to life on Earth as climate change does, says a summary of the work, released on 6 May. [1]

 

*****


Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.

Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).

Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN).

Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).

 • The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations' projections).

By 2050, my granddaughter will be 31, and I likely a memory to her.

I came of age during the sixties when our Civil Rights leaders became Civil Rights icons and martyrs. I came of age when "duck and cover" drills were the order of the day. I came of age when post Civil Rights, we tried at least to act...civil. Forced busing gave way to De Facto desegregation in the public square in education - until the end of forced busing and re-segregation; malls, sports arenas (especially there) where some modicum of the old "control of black bodies" could be exercised with less bull whip and more paychecks and professional sports contracts.

The seventies would be the last time production kept pace with pay: we've been in a hamster wheel since then, and the gulf between the super rich and everyone else has become an un-crossable chasm. We're more oligarchy than democracy, and the owners would sooner than later transform us into a full dystopian fascistic hell scape than help solve the problems they've created.

The point is, despite all the challenges, I came of age. I lived. I loved. I laughed. I cried. I learned to drive. I married. I had children and they are starting to have children.

It would be lovely for my granddaughter to have a planet on which to have a tea.

Lovelier still for her parents (my children) to become grandparents in my absence on a planet still able to support life and a civilization that could support such an endeavor with minimal environmental impact.

Or...she and I could be relics of entropy, where our ashes will not be discernible from scientist to citizen, layman to philosopher, capitalist to socialist; black to white and prince to pauper. In a blink of an eye on the scale of cosmic time...we would all become irrelevant to an unfeeling universe.

I am again biased. I think my granddaughter (and yours), deserves a little more than that.

 

1. Humans are driving one million species to extinction, Jeff Tollefson, Nature
2. Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050, Drew Hansen, Forbes

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Distant Cousins...

Callao Cave, Luzon Island, The Philippines

Image credits:
Callao Cave Archaeology Project

 

Topics: Biology, DNA, Evolution, History, Research


(Inside Science) -- In a jungle cave in the Philippines, scientists have discovered fossils of what may be a new human species they call Homo luzonensis. The newfound teeth and bones combine primitive and modern traits in a way never previously seen together in one species, and suggest much remains to be discovered about human evolution outside Africa.
 
Image Source: Homo luzonensis

Although modern humans, Homo sapiens, are now the only surviving branch of the genus Homo, other species of humans once roamed across Earth. For example, previous research suggested Homo erectus, the most likely ancestor of modern humans, made its way out of Africa by at least 1.8 million years ago. In contrast, modern humans may have only begun dispersing from Africa roughly 200,000 years ago.

Fifteen years ago, scientists revealed an unusual extinct human species from the Indonesian island of Flores -- Homo floresiensis, often called "the hobbit" due to its diminutive size, which lived on Earth during the same time as modern humans. This finding hinted that other hominins -- any relatives of modern humans dating from after our ancestors split from those of chimpanzees -- might await discovery in Southeast Asia.
 

Researchers Find a New Ancient Human Species in the Philippines
Charles Q. Choi, Live Science

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Ethics of Genesis...

MS. TECH; EVOLUTION: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

 

Topics: Biology, Ethics, Genetics, Science Fiction


Note: The article "went there" before I could.

"Beware the beast man, for he is the devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home, and yours. Shun him... for he is the harbinger of death." Internet Movie Database, Planet of the Apes (1968) Synopsis

 

*****


Human intelligence is one of evolution’s most consequential inventions. It is the result of a sprint that started millions of years ago, leading to ever bigger brains and new abilities. Eventually, humans stood upright, took up the plow, and created civilization, while our primate cousins stayed in the trees.

Now scientists in southern China report that they've tried to narrow the evolutionary gap, creating several transgenic macaque monkeys with extra copies of a human gene suspected of playing a role in shaping human intelligence.

“This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.

According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size.

Su’s monkeys raise some unusual questions about animal rights. In 2010, Sikela and three colleagues wrote a paper called “The ethics of using transgenic non-human primates to study what makes us human,” in which they concluded that human brain genes should never be added to apes, such as chimpanzees, because they are too similar to us.

“You just go to the Planet of the Apes immediately in the popular imagination,” says Jacqueline Glover, a University of Colorado bioethicist who was one of the authors. “To humanize them is to cause harm. Where would they live and what would they do? Do not create a being that can’t have a meaningful life in any context.”

 

*****


Not to go all Cassandra on you, but...

At the story's heart is Caesar (Andy Serkis), a chimpanzee who gains human-like intelligence and emotions from an experimental drug. Raised like a child by the drug's creator, Will Rodman (James Franco) and a primatologist Caroline Aranha (Freida Pinto), Caesar ultimately finds himself taken from the humans he loves and imprisoned in an ape sanctuary in San Bruno. Seeking justice for his fellow inmates, Caesar gives the fellow apes the same drug that he inherited. He then assembles a simian army and escapes the sanctuary - putting man and ape on a collision course that could change the planet forever. Internet Movie Database, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Storyline

 

Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys—and yes, they may be smarter
Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review

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Antithesis of Wisdom...

 

Topics: Biology, Civics, Climate Change, Existentialism, Entropy, Mars, Politics


Chimpanzees look up to those they consider to be more prestigious, echoing the way that young people admire celebrities such as David Beckham and Cheryl Cole, according to a new study. Researchers found that apes copy the actions of those they consider to have high status within their group.

Professor Whiten commented, “Teenagers look to pop stars as social models, copying their clothing, mannerisms and speech. Adults are inspired by prominent members of their society, such as successful professionals. Our study shows that chimpanzees are similarly selective in their choice of trend setters.” [1]

 

*****


Abstract

Humans follow the example of prestigious, high-status individuals much more readily than that of others, such as when we copy the behavior of village elders, community leaders, or celebrities. This tendency has been declared uniquely human, yet remains untested in other species. Experimental studies of animal learning have typically focused on the learning mechanism rather than on social issues, such as who learns from whom. The latter, however, is essential to understanding how habits spread. Here we report that when given opportunities to watch alternative solutions to a foraging problem performed by two different models of their own species, chimpanzees preferentially copy the method shown by the older, higher-ranking individual with a prior track-record of success. Since both solutions were equally difficult, shown an equal number of times by each model and resulted in equal rewards, we interpret this outcome as evidence that the preferred model in each of the two groups tested enjoyed a significant degree of prestige in terms of whose example other chimpanzees chose to follow. Such prestige-based cultural transmission is a phenomenon shared with our own species. If similar biases operate in wild animal populations, the adoption of culturally transmitted innovations may be significantly shaped by the characteristics of performers. [2]

 

*****


Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica is often referred to as the "Doomsday glacier" because of its sheer size and position as "'backstop' for four other glaciers which holds an additional 10-13 feet of sea level rise." [3] Add the two feet of sea level Thwaites holds and Florida may have a little more to fear than the denials of their republican senators on the impact of climate change.

I've used the term fascism before, not because it's powerful but because it's stupid. The basis of its appeal is fear: fear of the "other," fear of the future, fear particularly of a supposed loss of birth numbers, therefore future voters and numerical power. So-called "white" supremacy has always been a math game of bad algebra and pure ignorance.

But it does not benefit the crowd proudly without Melanin, intellect and possessing MAGA hats: the celebrity chimps with all the bananas above them they worship use the faux demarcation points of politically constructed cultural differences to rob blind the very people that become their shock troops. Rigging elections is not beneath the 1% simians, as they've motivated their rubes that their "white" team won, despite the lack of sharing of spoils after said rigging, Russian interference or not. Socialism is thrown up as demon while demons rob rubes. They ask for "trick-down" bananas" and get feces. Smoking causing cancer must be denied. Humans causing climate impact MUST be denied until the last drop of oil; the last fracking of methane. Then, the royal chimpanzees will wall themselves up as sea levels rise, soundproof beyond "weeping and gnashing of teeth." They'll have extra bananas to live on as the rest of the planet starves. Eventually, their impressive supplies will run out. Perhaps they'll resort to the cannibalism as the Jamestown colonists did in desperation, eating their own children first. Eventually they will see their last sunrise in splendid, decaying mansions atop a canopy of the forest they razed. Currently, their high potentate Orange Orangutan cannot discriminate "orange" and "origin"; that his own father was born in the Bronx and not the Germany and thinks windmills causes cancer.

Homo sapiens, (Latin: “wise man”) the species to which all modern human beings belong. Homo sapiens is one of several species grouped into the genus Homo, but it is the only one that is not extinct. [YET] See also human evolution. Source: Britannica

Entropy - the measure of a system's thermal energy per unit temperature that is unavailable for doing useful work. Because work is obtained from ordered molecular motion, the amount of entropy is also a measure of the molecular disorder, or randomness, of a system. Encyclopedia Britannica

Having stupid citizens also serves a more ‘noble’ purpose. Although most of us want to be treated as intelligent beings, it is also in the interest of ruling parties – be they political or religious – to have an overall stupid population, dumb enough to make them controllable. Education and knowledge are being pushed aside in favour of technical training. Governments are more interested in a highly-skilled labour force than in critical and intelligent citizens. The media feed the population with ready-made entertainment and information, thus forming people’s minds according to what is preferable for the overall functioning of society. Zoereei, Homo stultus

Mars may have been a living world once. We still study it. We wish to terraform it. Mars as a world still takes 687 days to complete its year. It will take 365.25 days for Earth to complete its year...whether we're here, or not.
 

Homo Stultus - foolish man, stupid man: the chimps are exonerated.

1. Chimpanzee trend-setters: New study shows that chimps 'ape' the prestigious, University of St. Andrews, 2010, Phys.org
2. Prestige Affects Cultural Learning in Chimpanzees, Victoria Horner, Darby Proctor, Kristin E. Bonnie, Andrew Whiten, Frans B. M. de Waal, PLOS Journal
3. A glacier the size of Florida is on track to change the course of human civilization. Pakalolo, Daily Kos

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