What we're talking about More Brainless Science Tuesday, February 9, 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 himself. 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

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…

They’re already in their pajamas. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a new exhibit of the Striped Pyjama Squid. Guess what they look like?

Physical Science

I’m in Newport News, VA, to give a talk tonight at Jefferson Lab, and they’re putting me up at the on-site Residence Facility. The rooms at this are apparently sponsored associated with institutions that use the facility, with big signs on all the doors. Here’s mine: So, I guess my stay is in some sense…

“A mouse does not rely on just one hole.” -Plautus When you look at the largest, most powerful optical telescopes in the world, they all have something in common: they all have holes in their central, primary mirrors. This is for a few reasons, including that they’re all reflectors, they all need to focus light…

Since our recent trip to Vermont, SteelyKid has been obsessed with building blanket forts. These have mostly been in the living room, leading to a bit of angst at the end of the day when we need the blankets back. So i did a little reorganizing in the basement, and dug some sheets out of…

Environment

The Economist, about Ted Cruz, in an article about his presidential hopes: Conversely his appeal to moderates is limited. He has had little to say to or about the poor, beyond his perpetual gratitude that, when his father was washing dishes for 50 cents an hour, no one was sent by the government to help…

Pattern Recognition in Physics (or, if you prefer, Pattern Recognition in Physics) appears to have finally shuffled off this mortal coil; h/t DM. As late as January 2016 its arid mummified cadaver was propped up at http://www.pattern-recognition-in-physics.com/. But it would appear that either the vast expense of maintaining a domain, or perhaps the sheer embarrassment…

Except, of course, it is actually the same recycled nutters under yet another name. Thanks to BB for the link, but the original source is the Smoggies. Not to be confused with the Moggies. The new name is “Independent Committee on Geoethics”; not to be confused with the apparently respectable but to me unknowe International…

Humanities

Fornvännen, the archaeology journal I have co-edited since 1999, has added three new editors to its roster! Herman Bengtsson, Medieval art historian at the Uppsala County Museum, Uppsala Åsa M Larsson, Neolithic scholar, formerly director of a contract archaeology unit, now working at the National Heritage Board developing a more detailed Sites and Monuments Register…

A new study in NEJM finds that after Texas excluded Planned Parenthood and other providers affiliated with abortion providers from its family-planning program for low-income women, the program paid for fewer women to get some of the most effective forms of contraception.

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…

Education

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…

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…

Politics

I wrote about what I thought might happen in the New Hampshire primary a few days ago, but enough new stuff has happened to make it worth revisiting. Who will win the New Hampshire GOP Primary? And, perhaps more important, who will come in second, third, and fourth? We know that Donald Trump will win…

For public health workers, it’s no surprise that social, economic and political conditions shape the distribution and burden of disease. They’ve always known that it takes much more than medicine to keep people healthy. Still, when public health scientist Kristina Talbert-Slagle decided to study the impact of social and public health spending on HIV/AIDS, she wasn’t sure what she’d uncover.

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…

Medicine

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…

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…

Brain & Behavior

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…

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) are really cute when they hibernate (above). During torpor bouts, their body temperature decreases to a few degrees Celsius and their metabolism drops by as much as 95% with heart rates ranging from only 3-10 beats per minute. These bouts of torpor are interrupted by periodic arousals every couple of weeks during which their…

Technology

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…

For about a year in graduate school, I was a serious Go player. I read a few books and even played in a tournament. It’s a beautiful game, no question about it, but after wasting so much time just to become a mediocre chess player, I eventually decided not to repeat the process with Go.…

Information Science

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…

We have a Steacie Library Hackfest coming up and our there this year is Making a Difference with Data. And what better area to make a difference in than the environment and climate change? I am far from an expert on this topic, so suggestions for additions (and deletions if I’ve added anything inappropriate) are…

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.