B12 Solipsism

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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Trump Keeps Trying to Kill the Agency That Investigates Chemical Plant Disasters

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Crippled WIth Self Confidence
Crippled WIth Self Confidence

Mother Jones reports:

Earlier this month, after a three-month probe, the investigators from the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board concluded that a faulty valve at the plant caused the explosion. The board plans to issue recommendations that aim to prevent such an accident from happening again at a refinery.

But despite the warm welcome in Superior—and wide recognition of its expertise in chemical plant disasters—this small, independent federal agency is teetering on the brink of elimination.

The Trump administration has twice in its budgets attempted to shut down the Chemical Safety Board; so far, Congress has rejected the attempts. For the 2019 fiscal year, both the House and Senate have proposed restoring full funding.

But the assaults appear to be taking a toll. Hostility from the Trump administration and disarray from its efforts to eliminate the agency follow years of leadership turmoil and high turnover that started during the Obama administration. In 2015, its chairman, who was embroiled in a congressional investigation into poor management, resigned under pressure—yet leadership problems remain.

Combined, these problems threaten to cripple the agency’s investigations of chemical plant disasters

(click here to continue reading Trump Keeps Trying to Kill the Agency That Investigates Chemical Plant Disasters – Mother Jones.)

yayyy, Hillary’s emails!

Written by Seth Anderson

August 20th, 2018 at 10:33 am

EPA blocks warnings on cancer-causing chemical – formaldehyde

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V O T E
V O T E

Politico reports on why elections matter, part the 567,543,566th:

The Trump administration is suppressing an Environmental Protection Agency report that warns that most Americans inhale enough formaldehyde vapor in the course of daily life to put them at risk of developing leukemia and other ailments, a current and a former agency official told POLITICO.

The warnings are contained in a draft health assessment EPA scientists completed just before Donald Trump became president, according to the officials. They said top advisers to departing Administrator Scott Pruitt are delaying its release as part of a campaign to undermine the agency’s independent research into the health risks of toxic chemicals.

Andrew Wheeler, the No. 2 official at EPA who will be the agency’s new acting chief as of Monday, also has a history with the chemical. He was staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2004, when his boss, then-Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), sought to delay an earlier iteration of the formaldehyde assessment.

Formaldehyde is one of the most commonly used chemicals in the country. Americans are exposed to it through wood composites in cabinets and furniture, as well as air pollution from major refineries. The new assessment would give greater weight to warnings about the chemical’s risks and could lead to stricter regulations from the EPA or class-action lawsuits targeting its manufacturers, as frequently occurs after these types of studies are released.

“They’re stonewalling every step of the way,” the current official said, accusing political appointees of interfering with the formaldehyde assessment and other reports on toxic chemicals produced by EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System. Industry has long faulted the IRIS program, the agency’s only independent scientific division evaluating the health risks of toxic chemicals, whose assessments often form the basis for federal and state regulations.

Interfering with the formaldehyde study is one of several steps Trump’s EPA has taken to side with the businesses the agency is supposed to regulate and undermine the agency’s approach to science, critics say. Public health advocates also expressed alarm after Pruitt replaced academic scientists with industry advocates on the agency’s influential science advisory boards and sought to limitthe types of human health research the EPA can rely on in rulemakings.

The officials said Trump appointees have required that career officials receive their permission before beginning the required internal review of the formaldehyde study and have canceled key briefings that would have advanced it. That interference came after EPA career scientists revised the study once already last year to insulate it from political controversy, they said.

(click here to continue reading Sources: EPA blocks warnings on cancer-causing chemical – POLITICO.)

So, scientists at the EPA are leaking to Politico because they don’t want to be hauled in to defend themselves in a class action law suit in a few years…

Tomorrow We Vote
Tomorrow We Vote

Just out of morbid curiosity, I googled formaldehyde manufacturers, and one of the first to come up is Georgia Pacific. You may recall their owner: Koch Industries. The EPA stonewalling makes a lot more sense now, doesn’t it?

And this isn’t a new story, as it was discussed back in 2010, for instance

Kevin Grandia reported:

Our research has uncovered very strong ties between Georgia-Pacific, a company co-owned by David Koch through Koch Industries, and a political lobby group called the Formaldehyde Council that is involved in efforts to downplay the dangers posed by formaldehyde to human health.

Formaldehyde is classified as a “Group 1 Carcinogen” which is defined as an agent that “is definitely carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and “a complete carcinogen” in the words of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The National Toxicology Program also recently revised its characterization of formaldehyde to that of “known human carcinogen.”

But this determination by top scientists and researchers has not stopped Formaldehyde Council Inc. from trying to convince lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the links between Formaldehyde and cancer are highly overstated.

According to IRS filings [pdf], the Formaldehyde Council was formed in 1995 with the mission to,

“encourage accurate scientific evaluation of Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-based materials and to communicate sound scientific information relating to the uses, benefits and sustainability of these products.”
The Council’s operating budget in 2008 was $2.7 million and it reported $2 million in “membership dues and assessments.”

David Koch’s company, Georgia-Pacific, one of the largest manufacturers of Formaldehyde in the United States, is listed on the Formaldehyde Council’s website as a “member” since at least 2004.

(click here to continue reading Koch Industries Funds Attack on Science Linking Formaldehyde and Cancer | HuffPost.)

We need to have leaders in the EPA who actually care about protecting the environment, and our health, and not the profits of polluters like the Koch family.

Written by Seth Anderson

July 14th, 2018 at 9:34 am

Posted in environment,politics,science

Tagged with , ,

Diabetes and Low-Carb Diet

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Assembling Tian
Assembling Tian

Almost as if the healthcare industry (doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical corporations, insurance corporations) have a vested interest in making profits before healing people. Not that they are trying to harm people, rather that making money is the first motive.

A low-carbohydrate diet was in fact standard treatment for diabetes throughout most of the 20th century, when the condition was recognized as one in which “the normal utilization of carbohydrate is impaired,” according to a 1923 medical text. When pharmaceutical insulin became available in 1922, the advice changed, allowing moderate amounts of carbohydrates in the diet.

Yet in the late 1970s, several organizations, including the Department of Agriculture and the diabetes association, began recommending a high-carb, low-fat diet, in line with the then growing (yet now refuted) concern that dietary fat causes coronary artery disease. That advice has continued for people with diabetes despite more than a dozen peer-reviewed clinical trials over the past 15 years showing that a diet low in carbohydrates is more effective than one low in fat for reducing both blood sugar and most cardiovascular risk factors.

The diabetes association has yet to acknowledge this sizable body of scientific evidence. Its current guidelines find “no conclusive evidence” to recommend a specific carbohydrate limit. The organization even tells people with diabetes to maintain carbohydrate consumption, so that patients on insulin don’t see their blood sugar fall too low. That condition, known as hypoglycemia, is indeed dangerous, yet it can better be avoided by restricting carbs and eliminating the need for excess insulin in the first place. Encouraging patients with diabetes to eat a high-carb diet is effectively a prescription for ensuring a lifelong dependence on medication.

At the annual diabetes association convention in New Orleans this summer, there wasn’t a single prominent reference to low-carb treatment among the hundreds of lectures and posters publicizing cutting-edge research. Instead, we saw scores of presentations on expensive medications for blood sugar, obesity and liver problems, as well as new medical procedures, including that stomach-draining system, temptingly named AspireAssist, and another involving “mucosal resurfacing” of the digestive tract by burning the inside of the duodenum with a hot balloon.

(click here to continue reading Before You Spend $26,000 on Weight-Loss Surgery, Do This – The New York Times.)

Whether or not you have health issues, I believe a diet consisting of as many vegetables and fruits as you can eat is the best for you. Avoid processed foods as much as possible, etc.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 12th, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Investment in Science Helps A Nation

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Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds
Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds

The United States should spend less on building aircraft carriers, less on tax breaks for the wealthy, and for corporations like General Electric and ExxonMobil and more on projects like this:

A rocket that shot skyward from the Gobi Desert early Tuesday is expected to propel China to the forefront of one of science’s most challenging fields.

It also is set to launch Beijing far ahead of its global rivals in the drive to acquire a highly coveted asset in the age of cyberespionage: hack-proof communications.

Aboard the Micius satellite is encryption technology that, if successful, could propel China to the forefront of hack-proof communications. Professor Hoi Fung Chau of Hong Kong University explains how quantum physics can be used to frustrate hackers. State media said China sent the world’s first quantum-communications satellite into orbit from a launch center in Inner Mongolia about 1:40 a.m. Tuesday. Five years in the making, the project is being closely watched in global scientific and security circles.

The quantum program is the latest part of China’s multibillion-dollar strategy over the past two decades to draw even with or surpass the West in hard-sciences research.

“There’s been a race to produce a quantum satellite, and it is very likely that China is going to win that race,” said Nicolas Gisin, a professor and quantum physicist at the University of Geneva. “It shows again China’s ability to commit to large and ambitious projects and to realize them.”

Scientists in the U.S., Europe, Japan and elsewhere are rushing to exploit the strange and potentially powerful properties of subatomic particles, but few with as much state support as those in China, researchers say. Quantum technology is a top strategic focus in the country’s five-year economic development plan, released in March.

Beijing hasn’t disclosed how much money it has allocated to quantum research or to building the 1,400-pound satellite. But funding for basic research, which includes quantum physics, was $101 billion in 2015, up from $1.9 billion in 2005.

U.S. federal funding for quantum research is about $200 million a year, according to a congressional report in July by a group of science, defense, intelligence and other officials. 

It said development of quantum science would “enhance U.S. national security,” but said fluctuations in funding had set back progress.

 

(click here to continue reading China’s Latest Leap Forward Isn’t Just Great—It’s Quantum – WSJ.)

In other words, Congressional disfunction, partisanship and misguided priorities are stymieing the United States. 

Written by Seth Anderson

August 16th, 2016 at 9:44 am

Posted in government,science

Tagged with ,

Weird Wednesday – Part One – First Human Head Transplant

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The editor of this sucky blog1 has assigned Wednesday’s topic as Weird. Weird would include items such as you might encounter in Chuck Shepherd’s seminal News of the Weird, or on a late-night comedy show, or similar. The universe is a wild and wacky place, and not everything is beige, focus-tested, and lifeless.

Voivode of Pilsen
Voivode of Pilsen…

Anyway, a couple of days ago, I read about a doctor about to perform the first ever head transplant:

Three years ago, [Dr. Sergio] Canavero, now 51, had his own Dr. Strange moment when he announced he’d be able to do a human head transplant in a two-part procedure he dubs HEAVEN (head anastomosis venture) and Gemini (the subsequent spinal cord fusion). Valery Spiridonov, a 31-year-old Russian program manager in the software development field, soon emerged from the internet ether to volunteer his noggin. He suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a muscle-wasting disorder, and is desperate.

Canavero has a plan, delineated in a June 2013 paper in the peer-reviewed journal Surgical Neurology International and presented in 2015 as the keynote address of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons’s 39th annual conference. It’s a 36-hour, $20 million procedure involving at least 150 people, including doctors, nurses, technicians, psychologists and virtual reality engineers.

In a specially equipped hospital suite, two surgical teams will work simultaneously—one focused on Spiridonov and the other on the donor’s body, selected from a brain-dead patient and matched with the Russian for height, build and immunotype. Both patients—anesthetized and outfitted with breathing tubes—will have their heads locked using metal pins and clamps, and electrodes will be attached to their bodies to monitor brain and heart activity.

Next, Spiridonov’s head will be nearly frozen, ultimately reaching 12 to 15 degrees Celsius, which will make him temporarily brain-dead.Doctors will then drain his brain of blood and flush it with a standard surgery solution. A vascular surgeon will loop sleeve-like tubes made of Silastic (a silicone-plastic combination) around the carotid arteries and jugular veins; these tubes will be tightened to stop blood flow and later loosened to allow circulation when the head and new body are connected. Then the two teams, working in concert, will make deep incisions around each patient’s neck and use color-coded markings to note all the muscles in both Spiridonov’s head and that of the donor, to facilitate the reconnection.

Next comes the most critical step of all. Under an operating microscope, doctors will cleanly chop through both spinal cords—with a $200,000 diamond nanoblade, so thin that it is measured in angstroms, provided by the University of Texas.

Then the rush is on: Once sliced, Spiridonov’s head will have to be attached to the donor’s body and connected to the blood flow within an hour. (When the head is transferred, the main vessels will be clamped to prevent air from causing a blockage.) Surgeons will quickly sew the arteries and veins of Spiridonov’s head to those of his new body. The donor’s blood flow will then, in theory, re-warm Spiridonov’s head to normal temperatures within minutes.

If all that goes as planned, Canavero can then make good on his Dr. Strange inspiration with Gemini. The lengths of the transected spinal cord stumps will be adjusted so they’re even, and the myelinated axons, the spaghetti-like parts of nerve cells, will be fused using a special type of glue made of polyethylene glycol, an inorganic polymer that Canavero says is the procedure’s true magical elixir.

In this way, spinal cord function will be established by enabling the cytoplasm of adjacent cells to mix together.Then it’s time to make sure the spinal fusion is secure with a few loose sutures applied around the joined cord and threaded through the thin membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord.  

To finish securing Spiridonov’s head, the previously exposed vertebral arteries of the donor and Spiridonov will also be linked to achieve proper blood flow. In addition, the dura, the tough outermost membrane covering the brain and spinal cord, will be sewn watertight with wires and clamps. Doctors will similarly reconnect the trachea, esophagus, vagi and phrenic nerves, along with all of the severed muscles, and plastic surgeons will sew the skin for optimal cosmetic results.

Throughout, doctors will ensure a suppressed immune system through medication, and after the transplant, doctors will regularly screen Spiridonov’s blood for anti-donor antibodies while he lies in a drug-induced coma for four weeks to allow his brain to recover. During that time, doctors will electrically stimulate the spinal cord to promote communication between neurons and improve Spiridonov’s motor and sensory functions.

(click here to continue reading Doctor Ready to Perform First Human Head Transplant.)

Tall statue aka Our Onion-headed Overlords
Our Onion-headed Overlords

Doubters and naysayers don’t believe the operation will be possible, or even attempted, but science is always about exploring the edges of human knowledge, with plenty of failures along the way.

I see a few possible outcomes to the surgery.

  1. The patient dies during surgery. Dr. Canavero will learn from the experience and try again later.
  2. The surgery seems successful, but the patient never wakes up from the induced coma. Again, something can be learned from the experience, and applied to future surgeries.
  3. The patient wakes up: but who is he? The brain and human consciousness are not totally understood. Will the patient be able to wiggle his fingers? Walk? Talk? Speak Russian? Write C++ code? Did you know that the stomach contains serotonin receptors (5HT receptors)? Maybe these brain-stomach connectors are more important to consciousness than we know and the patient will retain some fragments of the other person’s body? Memories? Emotions? Who knows? 

El Ray - Giant Olmec Head
El Ray – Giant Olmec Head

The surgery is scheduled for 2017, I assume we’ll hear about the successes or failure. Will there be a Frankenstein monster? Or just another step towards Ray Kurzweil’s 2020 goals for humanity?

Footnotes:
  1. me, though if you have some free time, I’d like to have your help, proofreading and what not []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 4th, 2016 at 9:05 am

Posted in science

Tagged with , ,

Electric concrete to melt snow faster

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Intensely Secular
Intensely Secular (snow plow)

Speaking of infrastructure improvements:

Dr. Chris Tuan, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his team of researchers have developed a concrete mixture prototype that melts away falling snow and ice by conducting electricity.  

Steel rods beneath the concrete’s surface connect to electrodes, which connect to a 120-volt AC power source.

Carbon byproducts from coal mining and steel shavings from industrial waste make up only 20 percent of the otherwise typical concrete mixture, but the conductivity is strong enough to clear the surface. 

Still, it’s not cheap: Tuan’s concrete runs $300 per cubic yard, compared to $120 per cubic yard of regular concrete.

But the typical salt and de-icing chemicals used on streets can corrode concrete and lead to potholes. Tuan said this makes his conductive concrete an even more attractive option, with a greater upfront price tag offsetting later maintenance and operating costs.

“Bridges always freeze up first, because they’re exposed to the elements on top and bottom,” Tuan told UNL Today. “It’s not cost-effective to build entire roadways using conducive concrete, but you can use it at certain locations where you always get ice or have potholes.”

“Statistics indicate that 10 to 15 percent of all roadway accidents are directly related to weather conditions,” Tuan explains in his 2008 analysis of the bridge study. “This percentage alone represents thousands of human injuries and deaths and millions of dollars in property damage annually … The conductive concrete deicing technology is readily available for implementation at accident-prone areas such as bridge overpasses, exit ramps, airport runways, street intersections, sidewalks and driveways.” 

(click here to continue reading Electric concrete to melt snow faster – Business Insider.)

Cold Winter Streets
Cold Winter Streets

also, there are environmental advantages to using less de-icing materials:

Conductive concrete can alleviate environmental damage by reducing the amount of salt and chemicals dispersed on roads and sidewalks after storms. Melting snow and ice carries deicing chemicals into local waterways and nearby soils, which in turn can slow plant growth and attract animals into dangerous roadways.   

Cool. Err, well, interesting…

Scary
Scary snow plow.

Written by Seth Anderson

January 29th, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Daylight saving time Is Bad For You

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Am I Boring You?
Am I Boring You?

I’m firmly in the camp of One Time per Time Zone Per Year. In other words, drop the whole Daylight Savings bullshit introduced by the Kaiser1 , and keep the time the same all damn year long. So what if it gets light later, or dark earlier. Most of us have electricity by now, and access to coffee, we can artificially create light, and wake our lazy asses out of bed when we need to. 

Aside from getting one less hour of sleep on Sunday and getting more light in the evening, daylight saving time doesn’t affect me, does it?

Actually, it may have a more averse effect than it seems. A study done by Dr Amneet Sandhu, a cardiology fellow at the University of Colorado in Denver, shows that on the Monday immediately after daylight saving time heart attacks increase by 25 per cent, Reuters reported.

On the Monday after daylight saving time ends, heart attacks fall by 21 per cent. Dr Sandhu said the loss of sleep is the likely culprit of the increase of heart attacks seen after the clocks move forward, so make sure you get plenty of sleep on Sunday.

(click here to continue reading Daylight saving time: Why moving the clock forward increases risk of heart attacks – Americas – World – The Independent.)

Time is out of Focus
Time is out of Focus

Accuracy is Overrated
Accuracy is Overrated

Footnotes:
  1. Germany and Austria-Hungary organized the first implementation, starting on 30 April 1916. []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 6th, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Posted in News-esque,science

Tagged with , ,

Americans should drink more coffee

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Morning Coffee Ritual
Morning Coffee Ritual

Since I’m descended from the Murphy clan, who habitually drink coffee by the gallon daily for the last 70 years, I’ve always been a coffee enthusiast.

When the nation’s top nutrition panel released its latest dietary recommendations on Thursday, the group did something it had never done before: weigh in on whether people should be drinking coffee. What it had to say is pretty surprising.

Not only can people stop worrying about whether drinking coffee is bad for them, according to the panel, they might even want to consider drinking a bit more.

The panel cited minimal health risks associated with drinking between three and five cups per day. It also said that consuming as many as five cups of coffee each day (400 mg) is tied to several health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

“We saw that coffee has a lot of health benefits,” said Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts University and one of the committee’s members. “Specifically when you’re drinking more than a couple cups per day.”

That’s great news if you’re already drinking between three and five cups each day, which Nelson and the rest of the panel consider a “moderate” level of consumption.

(click here to continue reading It’s official: Americans should drink more coffee – The Washington Post.)

About 1250 ml of water
About 1250 ml of water

Well, I should be safe. Every morning, as part of my current coffee ritual, I pour about 1250 ml of water from my 5-stage Reverse Osmosis filter into a pot, boil it. Meanwhile, I grind fresh coffee beans in a burr grinder, and place them in a paper filter, held in place with a ceramic cone. The cone is placed above a coffee thermos, and then I pour the hot water slowly over the grounds. My carafe only holds 1000 ml, so when it is about half full, I pour out the days first cup, then continue pouring the hot water over the coffee grounds.

1250 ml is roughly 5 8 oz cups1 – that is perfect for me. Later in the day, if I need more, I’ll either make a single cup, or an espresso, or some days switch to black or green tea.

Pour Over Coffee
Pour Over Coffee

For several years, I had switched to a French press, but got tired of the film and sediment, so started making pour-over coffee again.

Footnotes:
  1. 42.268 oz []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 25th, 2015 at 9:14 am

Posted in Food and Drink,health,science

Tagged with ,

Low-fat diet advice was based on undercooked science

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Lobster Spring Roll - Japonais
Lobster Spring Roll.

As a follow-up to revision to the US government’s advice about cholesterol, we read this tidbit yesterday…

An international team of health scientists has completed a systematic study of the evidence available back in the 1970s and ’80s and concluded that a relationship of causation between fat consumption and coronary heart disease was never established. The researchers found just six studies that fit the criteria to be considered proper randomized controlled trials, all limited to male subjects and most addressing the proportion of fat in the diet only indirectly.

“Government dietary fat recommendations were untested in any trial prior to being introduced,” writes Zoe Harcombe of the University of the West of Scotland, lead author of the study. Despite this, “to date, no analysis of the evidence base for these recommendations has been undertaken,” which is what prompted Harcombe and her team to conduct their investigation.

From among the data on various diet types that was available, there were no differences in the number of deaths from all causes, and no statistically significant changes in death from cardiovascular disease. Eating less fat was not shown to improve a person’s heart health, even where changes in diet led to a reduction in blood cholesterol levels. “It seems incomprehensible that dietary advice was introduced for 220 million Americans and 56 million UK citizens, given the contrary results from a small number of unhealthy men,” comments Harcombe.

At the time of issuing the original 1977 Dietary Goals for the United States, better known as the McGovern report, the Senate Committee’s lead nutritionist, Dr. Hegsted of Harvard University, admitted that the evidence base was for the advice was somewhat lacking. “There will undoubtedly be many people who will say we have not … demonstrated that the dietary modifications we recommend will yield the dividend expected,” remarked Hegsted. But his counterargument was that there was more to gain from switching to the recommended diet than there was to lose. Beyond reducing fat intake, the Dietary Goals also urged a reduction in the consumption of salt and sugar, whose deleterious health effects have been far better established.

(click here to continue reading Low-fat diet advice was based on undercooked science | The Verge.)

Oh boy, so 40 years of bad advice from the government and corporate allies all based on incomplete science. Seems like someone should have said something, oh, maybe a few years later? Ten years later? Twenty years later? Ten years ago? 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 11th, 2015 at 11:52 am

For the Monarch Butterfly, a Long Road Back

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Frostpocket Monarch Butterfly
Frostpocket Monarch Butterfly

If I had a garden of my own, and didn’t live in urban squalor, I’d plant as many native milkweeds as I could: I find them a beautiful plant, plus I love the majesty of the Monarch Butterfly. Also yet another Monsanto product with devastating effects on our planet…

In recent years amateur conservationists have sought to replenish drastic declines in milkweed, the only plant female monarchs lay eggs on. But the most widely available milkweed for planting, the scientists say, is an exotic species called tropical milkweed — not the native species with which the butterflies evolved. That may lead to unseasonal breeding, putting monarchs at higher risk of disease and reproductive failure.

But in the Midwest, which produces half of Mexico’s wintering monarchs, the scores of wild milkweed species among grasslands and farms are fast disappearing.

Nearly 60 percent of native Midwestern milkweeds vanished between 1999 and 2009, the biologists Karen Oberhauser and John Pleasants reported in 2012 in the journal Insect Conservation and Diversity. The loss coincided with increased applications of the weedkiller Roundup on expanded plantings of corn and soybeans genetically altered to tolerate the herbicide. Meanwhile, monarch reproduction in the Midwest dropped more than 80 percent, as did populations in Mexico.

With the loss of native milkweeds that die in the fall, monarchs are encountering tropical milkweeds that are still thriving.

“There’s this huge groundswell of people planting tropical milkweed, and we don’t know what it’s doing to the butterflies,” said Francis X. Villablanca, a biology professor at California Polytechnic University. “We’re all in a rush to figure it out.”

Dr. Altizer fears that when monarchs encounter lush foliage in the fall, they may become confused, start breeding and stop migrating.

“It’s sad, because people think planting milkweed will help,” she said. “But when milkweed is available during the winter, it changes the butterfly’s behavior.”

Butterfly enthusiasts shouldn’t feel bad for planting tropical milkweed, monarch researchers say. But they should cut the plants back in fall and winter. Or even better, replace them with natives. There are native plant societies across the country that can offer advice.

(click here to continue reading For the Monarch Butterfly, a Long Road Back – NYTimes.com.)

Green-flowered Milkweed in Yurtistan
Green-flowered Milkweed in Yurtistan

Without Warning
Without Warning

Swarming Horde
Swarming Horde

Written by Seth Anderson

November 23rd, 2014 at 11:54 am

Posted in environment,science

Tagged with ,

Scientists agree: Coffee naps are better than coffee or naps alone

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Pour Over Coffee
Pour Over Coffee

I’ve been meaning to try this: I am a nap person anyway, typically for about 30 minutes in the late afternoon. And since I have some coffee in my thermos from this morning…

To understand a coffee nap, you have to understand how caffeine affects you. After it’s absorbed through your small intestine and passes into your bloodstream, it crosses into your brain. There, it fits into receptors that are normally filled by a similarly-shaped molecule, called adenosine.

Adenosine is a byproduct of brain activity, and when it accumulates at high enough levels, it plugs into these receptors and makes you feel tired. But with the caffeine blocking the receptors, it’s unable to do so. As Stephen R. Braun writes in Buzz: the Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine, it’s like “putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.”

 Now, caffeine doesn’t block every single adenosine receptor — it competes with adenosine for these spots, filling some, but not others.

But here’s the trick of the coffee nap: sleeping naturally clears adenosine from the brain. If you nap for longer than 15 or 20 minutes, your brain is more likely to enter deeper stages of sleep that take some time to recover from. But shorter naps generally don’t lead to this so-called “sleep inertia” — and it takes around 20 minutes for the caffeine to get through your gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream anyway.

So if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert.

(click here to continue reading Scientists agree: Coffee naps are better than coffee or naps alone – Vox.)

Ask me tomorrow (or better yet next week after I try coffee napping a few times) how well it works…

Full of Beans - Espresso
Full of Beans – Espresso

Round of Coffee
Round of Coffee

Jabez Burns and Sons - Coffee Roasters
Jabez Burns and Sons – Coffee Roasters

Daily Rounds
Daily Rounds

Seemed Easier Than Just Waiting Around
Seemed Easier Than Just Waiting Around

Colleen Drinks Coffee
Colleen Drinks Coffee

Written by Seth Anderson

August 28th, 2014 at 11:06 am

Posted in Food and Drink,science

Tagged with

Parasites Practicing Mind Control -Toxoplasma

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Ladybug Cow (aka Cowccinella Novemnotata), climbing the wall of the Talbott Hotel
Ladybug Cow (aka Cowccinella Novemnotata), climbing the wall of the Talbott Hotel under direction of Toxoplasma Gondii…

Wild, just wild. Fascinating stuff, and we are just discovering exactly how powerful these microorganisms actually are…

An unassuming single-celled organism called Toxoplasma gondii is one of the most successful parasites on Earth, infecting an estimated 11 percent of Americans and perhaps half of all people worldwide. It’s just as prevalent in many other species of mammals and birds. In a recent study in Ohio, scientists found the parasite in three-quarters of the white-tailed deer they studied.

One reason for Toxoplasma’s success is its ability to manipulate its hosts. The parasite can influence their behavior, so much so that hosts can put themselves at risk of death. Scientists first discovered this strange mind control in the 1990s, but it’s been hard to figure out how they manage it. Now a new study suggests that Toxoplasma can turn its host’s genes on and off — and it’s possible other parasites use this strategy, too.

Toxoplasma manipulates its hosts to complete its life cycle. Although it can infect any mammal or bird, it can reproduce only inside of a cat. The parasites produce cysts that get passed out of the cat with its feces; once in the soil, the cysts infect new hosts.

Toxoplasma returns to cats via their prey. But a host like a rat has evolved to avoid cats as much as possible, taking evasive action from the very moment it smells feline odor.

Experiments on rats and mice have shown that Toxoplasma alters their response to cat smells. Many infected rodents lose their natural fear of the scent. Some even seem to be attracted to it.

Manipulating the behavior of a host is a fairly common strategy among parasites, but it’s hard to fathom how they manage it.

(click here to continue reading Parasites Practicing Mind Control – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 28th, 2014 at 8:11 am

Posted in News-esque,science

Tagged with , ,

Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits

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Blago Jogging on May Street
Blago Jogging on May Street

Does running to the wine cellar count?

Running for as little as five minutes a day could significantly lower a person’s risk of dying prematurely, according to a large-scale new study of exercise and mortality. The findings suggest that the benefits of even small amounts of vigorous exercise may be much greater than experts had assumed.

In recent years, moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, has been the focus of a great deal of exercise science and most exercise recommendations. The government’s formal 2008 exercise guidelines, for instance, suggest that people should engage in about 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. Almost as an afterthought, the recommendations point out that half as much, or about 15 minutes a day of vigorous exercise, should be equally beneficial.

As a group, runners gained about three extra years of life compared with those adults who never ran.

Remarkably, these benefits were about the same no matter how much or little people ran. Those who hit the paths for 150 minutes or more a week, or who were particularly speedy, clipping off six-minute miles or better, lived longer than those who didn’t run. But they didn’t live significantly longer those who ran the least, including people running as little as five or 10 minutes a day at a leisurely pace of 10 minutes a mile or slower.

“We think this is really encouraging news,” said Timothy Church, a professor at the Pennington Institute who holds the John S. McIlHenny Endowed Chair in Health Wisdom and co-authored the study. “We’re not talking about training for a marathon,” he said, or even for a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) race. “Most people can fit in five minutes a day of running,” he said, “no matter how busy they are, and the benefits in terms of mortality are remarkable.”

The study did not directly examine how and why running affected the risk of premature death, he said, or whether running was the only exercise that provided such benefits. The researchers did find that in general, runners had less risk of dying than people who engaged in more moderate activities such as walking.

But “there’s not necessarily something magical about running, per se,” Dr. Church said. Instead, it’s likely that exercise intensity is the key to improving longevity, he said, adding, “Running just happens to be the most convenient way for most people to exercise intensely.”

(click here to continue reading Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits – NYTimes.com.)

not that I have a wine cellar myself, more like an area under the stair that has a few bottles stored for a moment or two…

In Between the Rains
In Between the Rains

Seriously, it can’t hurt to go for a vigorous walk or run every day, and you might even enjoy it. 

Written by Seth Anderson

July 31st, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Posted in health,science

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Don’t Remove Your Appendix

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Gathered forgetfulness
Gathered forgetfulness

The medical establishment is about to issue a big Ooopsie to all the people who had their appendix removed; people who were assured by their doctor that it was no big deal to live without an appendix.

There is growing evidence for the role of the appendix in restoring a healthful balance of microbes in the body. Though long considered an expendable, vestigial organ, the appendix is now being looked at as “a storehouse of good bacteria,” Dr. Dunn said. In a study of recovery rates from Clostridium difficile, which causes a severe form of infectious diarrhea, often following antibiotic therapy, patients whose appendixes had been removed were more likely to have a recurrent infection than those who still had appendixes.

(click here to continue reading Probiotic Logic vs. Gut Feelings – NYTimes.com.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if the tonsils do something too, we just don’t know what yet…

Written by Seth Anderson

July 28th, 2014 at 9:55 am

Posted in health,science

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Coconut Water Changes Its Claims

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A Favorite Breakfast Beverage
A Favorite Breakfast Beverage

Funny how that works. A few years ago, coconut water was being marketed as a panacea for each and every thing wrong with you. And now? Not so much. However, people still repeat those initial, miracle-drug claims. Shows you the power of advertising, doesn’t it?

When coconut water broke into the American market 10 years ago, it was billed as a miracle drink able to fight viruses, kidney disease and other ailments like osteoporosis. Global sales now reach $400 million a year, and many consumers believe that the beverage has a wide variety of health benefits. But they may be unaware that the drink’s marketers have sharply scaled back their claims.

The minerals in coconut water are what prompted the early claims of curative power, but their amounts are quite modest and they are widely found in other foods. A banana, for example, has 422 milligrams of potassium, compared with 660 milligrams in a typical container of coconut water. The water’s big three minerals are potassium (19 percent of the daily recommended intake), calcium (4 percent) and magnesium (4 percent).

Coconut water taps into a “deep consumer vein,” Tom Pirko, a beverage industry analyst, wrote in an email. “It is not seen as a ‘manufactured’ concoction, but rather the issue of Mother Earth.” And it seems poised to become just the first in a wave of natural waters; already for sale are bottled waters from maple and birch trees, barley, cactus and artichokes, with their own exuberant promotions.

 

(click here to continue reading Coconut Water Changes Its Claims – NYTimes.com.)

I do think coconut water is tasty, occasionally refreshing, but I would not expect it to cure anything. But then I’m a natural born skeptic…

Written by Seth Anderson

July 28th, 2014 at 8:54 am

Posted in Advertising,health,science

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