Categories
Books science

Little Ice Age of 1550

Caves of Ice

Since the book I’m reading mentions the Little Ice Age of 1550 to approximately 1750, I looked it up in Wikipedia:

The Little Ice Age (LIA) was a period of cooling that occurred after the Medieval Warm Period. Although it was not a true ice age, the term was introduced into scientific literature by François E. Matthes in 1939. It has been conventionally defined as a period extending from the 16th to the 19th centuries, but some experts prefer an alternative timespan from about 1300 to about 1850.

 The NASA Earth Observatory notes three particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, all separated by intervals of slight warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report considered the timing and areas affected by the Little Ice Age suggested largely independent regional climate changes rather than a globally synchronous increased glaciation. At most, there was modest cooling of the Northern Hemisphere during the period. Several causes have been proposed: cyclical lows in solar radiation, heightened volcanic activity, changes in the ocean circulation, variations in Earth’s orbit and axial tilt (orbital forcing), inherent variability in global climate, and decreases in the human population (for example from the Black Death and the colonization of the Americas).

(click here to continue reading Little Ice Age – Wikipedia.)

Eagle On An Alaskan Ocean Ice Floe near Juneau - 2007

Fascinating. The book I’m reading –1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created speculates the cause was related to deforestation, and subsequent burning of trees being stopped. Who knows?

“Eurasian bacteria, viruses, and parasites sweep through the Americas, killing huge numbers of people—and unraveling the millennia-old network of human intervention. Flames subside to embers across the Western Hemisphere as Indian torches are stilled. In the forests, fire-hating trees like oak and hickory muscle aside fire-loving species like loblolly, longleaf, and slash pine, which are so dependent on regular burning that their cones will only open and release seed when exposed to flame. Animals that Indians had hunted, keeping their numbers down, suddenly flourish in great numbers. And so on. 

Indigenous pyromania had long pumped carbon dioxide into the air. At the beginning of the Homogenocene the pump suddenly grows feeble. Formerly open grasslands fill with forest—a frenzy of photosynthesis. In 1634, fourteen years after the Pilgrims land in Plymouth, colonist William Wood complains that the once-open forests are now so choked with underbrush as to be “unuseful and troublesome to travel through.” Forests regenerate across swathes of North America, Mesoamerica, the Andes, and Amazonia.

Ruddiman’s idea was simple: the destruction of Indian societies by European epidemics both decreased native burning and increased tree growth. Each subtracted carbon dioxide from the air. In 2010 a research team led by Robert A. Dull of the University of Texas estimated that reforesting former farmland in American tropical regions alone could have been responsible for as much as a quarter of the temperature drop—an analysis, the researchers noted, that did not include the cutback in accidental fires, the return to forest of unfarmed but cleared areas, and the entire temperate zone. In the form of lethal bacteria and viruses, in other words, the Columbian Exchange (to quote Dull’s team) “significantly influenced Earth’s carbon budget.” It was today’s climate change in reverse, with human action removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere rather than adding them—a stunning meteorological overture to the Homogenocene.

Excerpt From: Charles C. Mann. “1493.” iBooks. https://books.apple.com/us/book/1493/id422528932

Ineffable Silences

Categories
science

Trump used to flirt with anti-vaxxers. Now he is demanding a coronavirus vaccine

Needle Park

The Guardian:

Informing Fauci and other government scientists that they must clear all public comments with Mike Pence, the vice-president, is unacceptable. This is not a time for someone who denies evolution, the climate crisis and the dangers of smoking to shape the public message. Thank goodness Fauci, Francis Collins, the director of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), and their colleagues across federal agencies are willing to soldier on and are gradually getting the message out.

While scientists are trying to share facts about the epidemic, the administration either blocks those facts or restates them with contradictions. Transmission rates and death rates are not measurements that can be changed with will and an extroverted presentation. The administration has repeatedly said – as it did last week – that virus spread in the United States is contained, when it is clear from genomic evidence that community spread is occurring in Washington state and beyond. That kind of distortion and denial is dangerous and almost certainly contributed to the federal government’s sluggish response. After three years of debating whether the words of this administration matter, the words are now clearly a matter of life and death.

And although the steps required to produce a vaccine could possibly be made more efficient, many of them depend on biological and chemical processes that are essential. So the president might just as well have said, “Do me a favor, hurry up that warp drive.”

I don’t expect politicians to know Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism or the Diels-Alder chemical reaction (although I can dream). But you can’t insult science when you don’t like it and then suddenly insist on something that science can’t give on demand. For the past four years, Trump’s budgets have made deep cuts to science, including cuts to funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH. With this administration’s disregard for science of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the stalled naming of a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy – all to support political goals – the nation has had nearly four years of harming and ignoring science.

(click here to continue reading Trump used to flirt with anti-vaxxers. Now he is demanding a coronavirus vaccine | H Holden Thorp | US news | The Guardian.)

The GOP’s decade long war against science, and experts in general, is finally bearing bitter fruit for all of us. Drink deeply.

I am also genuinely curious if the anti-vaxxer idiot crowd will accept this vaccine without complaint. Will they insist upon being first in line? Or will they block widespread distribution of it? We won’t know for a bit, and by then, the death toll will most likely be higher. A real test of their principles, or lack of them. Herd immunity and all that…

Categories
science

A Prairie Flower That Flourishes With Fire

Cultivated Wild Flowers

The New York Times reports:

some small plants can benefit from a fire, because they grow back faster than grasses and trees, giving them an advantage in the battle for resources.

A study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gives another explanation for that success, at least for one prairie plant that has been in decline: reproductive advantage.

Purple coneflowers, also known as echinacea angustifolia, produce more seeds in years following fires, the new study shows, not just because there are fewer competitors for resources, but because a fire “also changes the mating opportunities,” said Stuart Wagenius, a conservation scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Dr. Wagenius, who led the research, tracked a 40-hectare plot, or nearly 100 acres, of prairie land in Minnesota for 21 years as part of the Echinacea Project.

The study found that coneflowers produced more seeds and were more genetically diverse in plots that were burned every few years, compared to those where fires were prevented

(click here to continue reading A Prairie Flower That Flourishes With Fire – The New York Times.)

Fascinating, Jim…

The Echinacea Project study site:

Our study area comprises 6400 ha (25 square miles) of rural western Minnesota, USA near the towns of Kensington and Hoffman (centered near 45º 49′ N, 95º 43′ W). Before European settlement in the 1870s, the entire area, except for lakes and wetlands, was potential Echinacea habitat. Echinacea and other prairie plants now persist in remnant populations on hillsides too steep for agricultural production, in fence corners inaccessible to farm machinery, along road and railroad rights-of-way, and on abandoned pastureland. The remnants that we study range in size from a roadside prairie of only several square meters to a 95 acre TNC preserve.

(click here to continue reading Our Study Site « The Echinacea Project.)

Echinacea Purpurea sign 

Categories
science

Everyone Knows Memory Fails as You Age. But Everyone Is Wrong

The Light Illuminated Your Eyes

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin writes in The New York Times:

Short-term memory contains the contents of your thoughts right now, including what you intend to do in the next few seconds. It’s doing some mental arithmetic, thinking about what you’ll say next in a conversation or walking to the hall closet with the intention of getting a pair of gloves.
Short-term memory is easily disturbed or disrupted. It depends on your actively paying attention to the items that are in the “next thing to do” file in your mind. You do this by thinking about them, perhaps repeating them over and over again (“I’m going to the closet to get gloves”). But any distraction — a new thought, someone asking you a question, the telephone ringing — can disrupt short-term memory. Our ability to automatically restore the contents of the short-term memory declines slightly with every decade after 30.

But age is not the major factor so commonly assumed. I’ve been teaching undergraduates for my entire career and I can attest that even 20-year-olds make short-term memory errors — loads of them. They walk into the wrong classroom; they show up to exams without the requisite No. 2 pencil; they forget something I just said two minutes before. These are similar to the kinds of things 70-year-olds do.

In the absence of brain disease, even the oldest older adults show little or no cognitive or memory decline beyond age 85 and 90, as shown in a 2018 study. Memory impairment is not inevitable.

Some aspects of memory actually get better as we age. For instance, our ability to extract patterns, regularities and to make accurate predictions improves over time because we’ve had more experience. (This is why computers need to be shown tens of thousands of pictures of traffic lights or cats in order to be able to recognize them). If you’re going to get an X-ray, you want a 70-year-old radiologist reading it, not a 30-year-old one

(click here to continue reading Opinion | Everyone Knows Memory Fails as You Age. But Everyone Is Wrong. – The New York Times.)

Good to know as my brain and yours continues to age. Our brains might be slightly more crowded with experience, thus it might take a bit longer to access some memory, but it isn’t due to the brain deteriorating. My spelling is as poor as it ever was, more due to utilizing the crutch of computer spell-check than my brain turning to mush because I drink wine.

Vintage Light Bulb

Categories
health science

Drug Companies and Doctors Battle Over the Future of Fecal Transplants

 Shit Fountain

The New York Times reports:

There’s a new war raging in health care, with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake and thousands of lives in the balance. The battle, pitting drug companies against doctors and patient advocates, is being fought over the unlikeliest of substances: human excrement.

The clash is over the future of fecal microbiota transplants, or F.M.T., a revolutionary treatment that has proved remarkably effective in treating Clostridioides difficile, a debilitating bacterial infection that strikes 500,000 Americans a year and kills 30,000.

The therapy transfers fecal matter from healthy donors into the bowels of ailing patients, restoring the beneficial works of the community of gut microbes that have been decimated by antibiotics. Scientists see potential for using these organisms to treat diseasesfrom diabetes to cancer.

At the heart of the controversy is a question of classification: Are the fecal microbiota that cure C. diff a drug, or are they more akin to organs, tissues and blood products that are transferred from the healthy to treat the sick? The answer will determine how the Food and Drug Administration regulates the procedure, how much it costs and who gets to profit.

(click here to continue reading Drug Companies and Doctors Battle Over the Future of Fecal Transplants – The New York Times.)

Ahh, American healthcare: so advanced, and yet so harmful to humanity. Stock profit over public health is not a good model.

No Joy In Your Leaving

Categories
environment health science

Researchers say air pollution may increase risk of autism

Go Back To Where You Have Been Again

George Citroner reports:

Researchers say air pollution may increase risk of autism. Two studies concluded there may be a link, but more research is needed.

Two new studies have found an association between relatively low levels of air pollution and children’s risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

One study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, studied 132,000 births in Vancouver, Canada, from 2004 to 2009. Researchers concluded there was a link between exposure to nitric oxide from car exhaust during pregnancy and greater incidence of childhood ASD.

The second study, published in Environmental Epidemiology, observed more than 15,000 infants born in Denmark between 1989 and 2013. It found that air pollution exposure during the first months of life and later was also associated with ASD.

“The study showed a small increase in autism for infants exposed before birth to one of the pollutants: nitric oxide. While it’s a small increase, if large populations are exposed, it could still affect many children,” Lynn Singer, PhD, professor of population and quantitative health sciences, pediatrics, psychiatry, and psychology at the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, told Healthline.

(click here to continue reading Researchers say air pollution may increase risk of autism | Healthline.)

If the Democrats were smart, they would hammer this talking point over and over, despite it not being scientifically proven (yet). Take a page from the GOP/NRA playbook, and link the EPA’s (original) mission of clean air for everyone vs. pollution created by coal/chemical plants being encouraged to pollute so as to make more profits. Say it a million times, say it unprompted. Say the Trump admin is knowingly causing autism by their deregulatory fever, etc.

Categories
Food and Drink health science

Food Scientists Are Getting Fed Up With Picky Eaters Who Want To Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide

Nothing We Can Do About It Now
Nothing We Can Do About It Now

WSJ:

First they came for the trans fat, and pretty much everyone agreed it should be banned, because it can clog arteries.

Then they came for monosodium glutamate. Even though food companies say it is harmless, they eventually pulled it from many products, because that’s what the customer demanded.

Now, one in 10 young adults want regulators to ban dihydrogen monoxide from food and beverages, according to a study by research firm InsightsNow.

Um, that would be H2O, also known as water.

The food industry is grappling with just how far to bend to consumer whims about chemicals—even when those whims seem clueless. And this is giving America’s food scientists indigestion.

(click here to continue reading Anyone for Diglycerides? Anyone? Food Scientists Are Getting Fed Up With Picky Eaters – WSJ.)

Gluten Free Certified Vegan Top 8 Allergen Free Pareve Non GMO
Gluten Free, Certified Vegan, Top 8 Allergen Free, Pareve, Non-GMO

I’m of two minds on this: sure, there is no need to ban dihydrogen monoxide, or other harmless chemicals from packaged foods. Even MSG turns out to be useful, and non-harmful.

On the other hand, food scientists shouldn’t get an automatic pass to put whatever they want in foods, especially if there are untested ingredients. Or too many additives. The best foods are simple, and don’t require 500 word ingredient lists. I’m with Charlie Baggs…

Products free from artificial colors, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup and certain other additives make up roughly 30% of food and beverage sales and are the fastest-growing segment, according to Nielsen.

The Food and Drug Administration acknowledges its requirements for describing ingredients can be confusing. Anna Abram, an FDA deputy commissioner, points to vitamin B12, which in line with FDA regulations appears on some food labels as cyanocobalamin.

“That sounds like cyanide,” she says. B12, which helps cell and nerve function, occurs naturally in beef and tuna. Breakfast cereals are often fortified with it. She said the FDA is considering ways to make such ingredients sound more palatable.

That’s welcome news to Charlie Baggs, a “clean-label” research chef in Chicago who slashed the list of ingredients in one frozen dinner from 60 to 15. One common foe is xanthan gum, an emulsifier used to stabilize sauces and soups that is widely considered safe and natural .

“It doesn’t sound like something your grandma would use,” he says. “Who wants to eat that?”

Non GMO Project
Non GMO Project

Categories
health science

Psychedelic Mushrooms Are Closer to Medicinal Use

Forgive Mushrooms
Forgive Mushrooms

The New York Times:

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have recommended that psilocybin, the active compound in hallucinogenic mushrooms, be reclassified for medical use, potentially paving the way for the psychedelic drug to one day treat depression and anxiety and help people stop smoking.

The suggestion to reclassify psilocybin from a Schedule I drug, with no known medical benefit, to a Schedule IV drug, which is akin to prescription sleeping pills, was part of a review to assess the safety and abuse of medically administered psilocybin.

Before the Food and Drug Administration can be petitioned to reclassify the drug, though, it has to clear extensive study and trials, which can take more than five years, the researchers wrote.

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland

For decades, though, researchers have shunned the study of psychedelics. “In the 1960s, they were on the cutting edge of neuroscience research and understanding how the brain worked,” [Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins] said. “But then it got out of the lab.”

Research stopped, in part, because the use of mind-altering drugs like LSD and mushrooms became a hallmark of hippie counterculture.

The researchers who conducted the new study included Roland R. Griffiths, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and neurosciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who is one of the most prominent researchers on the behavioral and subjective effects of mood-altering drugs. The researchers reviewed data going back to the 1940s.

(click here to continue reading Psychedelic Mushrooms Are Closer to Medicinal Use (It’s Not Just Your Imagination) – The New York Times.)

Psychedelic experience
Psychedelic Experience

Potentially good news. Psychedelic drugs should be researched and studied without moralistic restrictions imposed by LBJ/Nixon’s DEA.

Pioppino Mushroom from River Valley Kitchens
Pioppino Mushroom from River Valley Kitchens

Categories
government health science

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

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!

Categories
environment politics science

EPA blocks warnings on cancer-causing chemical – formaldehyde

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.

Categories
Food and Drink government health science

Diabetes and Low-Carb Diet

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.

Categories
government science

Investment in Science Helps A Nation

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. 

Categories
science

Weird Wednesday – Part One – First Human Head Transplant

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 []
Categories
Business government science

Electric concrete to melt snow faster

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.

Categories
News-esque science

Daylight saving time Is Bad For You

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. []