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What we're talking about More Brainless Science Wednesday, February 10, 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 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…

“Einstein’s gravitational theory, which is said to be the greatest single achievement of theoretical physics, resulted in beautiful relations connecting gravitational phenomena with the geometry of space; this was an exciting idea.” -Richard Feynman When we look out into the Universe, we normally gain information about it by gathering light of various wavelengths. However, there…

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…

Environment

We came back from the developmental pediatrician yesterday in a jubilant mood. Two of my sons came to us with significant developmental delays. Both of them have made wonderful progress, so last night was an occasion for celebration. A lot of parents have children who are delayed in some ways. Some kids catch up. Some…

In one of my last posts, I argued that White children need to read Black children’s books as much or more than Black children, and more importantly, need to read lots of good children’s books with Black language, culture and heroes. They also need to read about other non-White cultures, but given the beginning of…

At about 9 PM eastern, with 90% of the votes counted in the Democratic primary, Sanders is showing a strong win. He is currently at about 60%, while Clinton is at 38%. That gap is significantly larger than what I had intuitively established at the cutoff for a Sanders “lower than expectation loss.” So, congratulations…

Humanities

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…

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…

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

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’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…

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.

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

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.