What we're talking about More Brainless Science Friday, February 12, 2016

More Brainless Science

Last week, Simon Davis wrote to me with questions about this cryonic brain preservation technique, which has now been published as How to Freeze Your Brain and Live Forever (Maybe). Unfortunately, my comments did not make it into the story, because, Simon politely explained, there are length restrictions and perhaps, I assume, also because my…

There is a myth about how science progresses: great men have a eureka moment, and rush in to the lab to do the definitive experiment, often bravely and with the opposition of the Science Establishment, and single-handedly revolutionize a discipline. It’s nonsense. I can’t think of a single example of that kind of work that…

If the IT resources exist to simulate 90 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections between them, mediated by dozens of different neurotransmitters and organized into highly specialized networks, there’s still no reason to expect intelligence to emerge or a ghost to glom on to the machine.

In the 21st century, immortality beckons from several directions: cybernetics, artificial intelligence, telomere extension and cell therapy, maybe even an afterlife. But most of humanity's hope to transcend death revolves around the brain, as the manifestation of our memories and personality. On Pharyngula, PZ Myers considers the merits of new efforts to master the brain, such as a "cryonic brain preservation technique" that promises to preserve your dead gray matter for a future generation. PZ used to prepare tissue for microscopy in the same way: "I was chemically nuking all the proteins in the tissue; I was washing out most of the chemistry; I was destroying most of the physiological information to preserve a structural skeleton of what was there." He concludes the pattern of synaptic connections is not sufficient to reconstitute a mind. In another post, PZ criticizes a researcher who could not get approval to surgically implant electrodes in human brains, and so had them implanted in his own. PZ writes, "Transhumanists might dream of some amazing Prigogenic leap that abruptly makes their cyborg aspirations reality, but it’s not going to happen that way." You can read more about brainless science on Page 3.14.

Channel Surfing

Life Science

We’ve got an interesting seminar coming to Morris next Thursday. Thursday, February 18, 2016, 5 p.m. Location: Imholte Hall 109 The origination of novel structures has long been an intriguing topic for biologists. Over the past few decades it has served as a central theme in evolutionary developmental biology, in part to highlight explanatory gaps…

On The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski reports on a “public health nightmare” in Brazil that threatens to become more common around the world. The culprit is a virus called Zika, known to cause mild infections since 1947 but now “linked to nearly 4,000 cases of microcephaly – infants born with abnormally small brains and heads.”…

Researchers are spending a lot of time exploring how the microbes living in our guts impact our health. In a new study published in Cell Reports, researchers wanted to know how the gut microbes of wild brown bears changes between summer and hibernation. They discovered that during the summer, the microbial species present in the gut are…

Physical Science

First, what is a gravitational wave? I find it interesting that some people are expressing difficulty in understanding what a gravitational wave is, as though everybody (who is not a physicist) has a perfectly good understanding of what any kind of wave is. We don’t need to go too deeply beneath the surface, as it…

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves.” -David Reitze More than 100 years after Einstein’s relativity came out, one of its last great predictions — the existence of gravitational radiation — has been directly experimentally confirmed! The LIGO collaboration has observed two ~30 solar mass black holes merging together, producing a slightly less massive final…

“We stand on a great threshold in the human history of space exploration. If life is prevalent in our neighborhood of the galaxy, it is within our resources and technological reach to be the first generation in human history to finally cross this threshold, and to learn if there is life of any kind beyond…

Environment

Sean B. Carroll is coming out with a new book called The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters. This is the molecular biologist Sean Carroll, as distinct from the physicist (who wrote this). Homeostasis is one of the basic principles of biology. The term can be applied broadly…

I don’t normally write about faith (I’m an atheist, I’d be bad at it), but I do often write about climate change. But my friend and colleague Paul Douglas happens to be an Evangelical Christian, Republican, and Rock Star Meteorologist. You’ve seen his work if you’ve seen the movies Jurassic Park or Twister. If you…

Much fuss about the cuts at CSIRO climate research. This reminds me of a less serious situation 10, or perhaps 15 years ago, when cuts were proposed – I can’t recall if they actually happened – due to a conversation somewhat like: Scientists: Global Warming is Real! Government: OK, we believe you’re, we going to…

Humanities

President Obama released his 2017 federal budget proposal yesterday, recommending funding boosts for a number of public health priorities. And even though his presidency is coming to an end and so this budget is probably dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Congress, it’s worth a peek inside.

I did bring my good camera with me to Newport News, and took it on the tour of Jefferson Lab yesterday, but despite the existence of DSLR pics, you’re getting a cell-phone snap for the photo of the day: That’s the audience about 10-15 minutes before my talk last night, so it was a good…

As I go through my daily routine, I find myself sort of out of phase with a lot of the Internet. My peak online hours are from about six to ten in the morning, Eastern US time. That’s when I get up, have breakfast, and then go to Starbucks to write for a few hours.…

Education

Internet Links and Social Links at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Here are some links of interest related to Trish Suchy and my NSF Antarctic Artists and Writers Project: Trish Suchy’s blog about our Artist’s and Writer’s project. David Ainley’s website about his research on Adelie penguins: Penguin Science The weather in McMurdo is here. Zach Sudman’s…

Our most recent helo trip out from McMurdo on our NSF Artists & Writers Project took us to Cape Evans, the site of Robert Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, where they based their 1910-1913 trip to the South Pole. We went with Anthony Powell (the filmmaker from Scott Base who made the movie “Antarctica: A Year…

Researchers are spending a lot of time exploring how the microbes living in our guts impact our health. In a new study published in Cell Reports, researchers wanted to know how the gut microbes of wild brown bears changes between summer and hibernation. They discovered that during the summer, the microbial species present in the gut are…

Politics

Just a quick note that will be of interest to my local readers. Senator Leo Foley passed away at the age of 87, just a few days ago. Senator John Hoffman, who now hold Senator Foley’s old seat, wrote this: Last Friday, Feb. 5 former Coon Rapids Senator Leo T. Foley passed away peacefully surrounded…

I’m looking at an exit poll by NBC and I have thoughts. Gender Gap Much has been made of the fact that Sanders got 55% of female votes, more than 44% for Clinton. That is indeed significant. But little has been said about the fact that among males, 66% voted for Sanders and 32% for…

President Obama released his 2017 federal budget proposal yesterday, recommending funding boosts for a number of public health priorities. And even though his presidency is coming to an end and so this budget is probably dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Congress, it’s worth a peek inside.

Medicine

Last week, I wrote about how conspiracy theories have been flowing fast and furious about the Zika virus and microcephaly. Even if you didn’t see that post (perhaps instead having seen this one), you’ve probably seen the news reports describing how last fall the observation of a large number of cases of microcephaly, characterized by…

If there’s one thing that’s frustrating about the U.S. justice system, it’s just how slow the wheels of justice grind. For example, it’s hard to believe that it was over two years ago that “pH Miracle” quack Robert O. Young was arrested for fraud, grand theft, and practicing medicine without a license, producing one of…

Katie May was a model, and by all accounts a very successful one, having appeared in Playboy, Sports Illustrated, and other magazines and websites. Self-proclaimed the “Queen of Snapchat,” she also had nearly two million Instagram followers and was a major social media force, having recently parlayed her modeling and social media career into becoming…

Brain & Behavior

Internet Links and Social Links at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Here are some links of interest related to Trish Suchy and my NSF Antarctic Artists and Writers Project: Trish Suchy’s blog about our Artist’s and Writer’s project. David Ainley’s website about his research on Adelie penguins: Penguin Science The weather in McMurdo is here. Zach Sudman’s…

In the midst of another national debate over gun safety regulations, some argue that higher rates of gun ownership will protect people from dangerous strangers with deadly intentions. Physician and public health researcher Michael Siegel set out to study that argument. He ultimately found no relationship between gun ownership and stranger-related firearm homicides. But he did find that gun ownership levels translated into higher homicide risks for one group in particular — women.

The whisking of a rat’s whisker is a classic example of “active sensing” – in other words, sensing that involves movement. Prof. Ehud Ahissar studies rat whisking in order to understand how mammals perceive through all types of active sensing; without the continuous movement of whiskers, fingertips or eyes, our perception of our surroundings would…

Technology

As I go through my daily routine, I find myself sort of out of phase with a lot of the Internet. My peak online hours are from about six to ten in the morning, Eastern US time. That’s when I get up, have breakfast, and then go to Starbucks to write for a few hours.…

Suddenly my computer tells me that copy.com is shutting down as a cloud storage service. That sucks, since I had a few terabytes of free storage with them. I will now have to seek an alternative. What are your experiences with cloud storage, free or otherwise?

David Macaulay is famous for his “how things work” books. How Machines Work: Zoo Break! is a new book that is really fun. So fun that it took me a long time to get it back from Amanda and Huxley so I could review it. The concept is simple. A story, a simple story, is…

Information Science

As I go through my daily routine, I find myself sort of out of phase with a lot of the Internet. My peak online hours are from about six to ten in the morning, Eastern US time. That’s when I get up, have breakfast, and then go to Starbucks to write for a few hours.…

Oh, The Onion. You are so wonderful and your take on the world of patents is so spot on that it hurts. What are patents for, anyways? Here’s a bit of an excerpt from their 11 Step Program. Drop by the site to see the rest. Brilliant. Step 1: First, come up with something really…

David Macaulay is famous for his “how things work” books. How Machines Work: Zoo Break! is a new book that is really fun. So fun that it took me a long time to get it back from Amanda and Huxley so I could review it. The concept is simple. A story, a simple story, is…

Jobs

In yesterday’s post about the lack of money in academia, I mentioned in passing that lack of funding is part of the reason for the slow pace of progress on improving faculty diversity. That is, we could make more rapid progress if we suddenly found shitloads of money and could go on a massive hiring…

Over in Twitter-land, somebody linked to this piece promoting open-access publishing, excerpting this bit: One suggestion: Ban the CV from the grant review process. Rank the projects based on the ideas and ability to carry out the research rather than whether someone has published in Nature, Cell or Science. This could in turn remove the…

This week’s snapshot of just one work-related fatality in the US. This one occurred on Tuesday, February 26 in Seattle, WA.