ScienceBlogs - Where the world discusses science en The End Is Not Near, But If An 'Insect Apocalypse' Ever Happens, How Would We Know? <span>The End Is Not Near, But If An &#039;Insect Apocalypse&#039; Ever Happens, How Would We Know?</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Insects scuttle, chew and fly through the world around us. Humans rely on them to pollinate plants, prey on insects that we don’t get along with, and to be movers and shakers for Earth’s ecosystems. It’s hard to imagine a world without insects.</p> <p>That’s why news reports in recent months warning of an “<a href="">insect apocalypse</a>” sparked widespread alarm. These <a href="">articles</a>, which were based on long-term insect collections and a review of past studies, suggested that people alive today will witness the indiscriminate extinction of insect-kind.</p> <p>I study <a href="">fungi that can be used to control harmful insects</a>, such as pests that damage crops and mosquitoes that transmit malaria. In my world, reports of mass insect die-offs are big news. But while there clearly is reason to be concerned about certain insects, such as the endangered <a href="">rusty patched bumble bee</a> or the <a href="">American burying beetle</a>, in my view it isn’t yet possible to predict a looming insect apocalypse.</p> <p>More than 1 million insects have been discovered and named, but many millions have yet to be described. It’s undeniable that Earth is becoming increasingly inhospitable to some insects – but nightmarish conditions for one <a href="">may be heaven to another</a>.</p> <p>Put another way, there is no perfect environment for all insects. And human impacts on the environment, like climate change and land development, very well may hurt beneficial insects and help harmful ones.</p> <p><span>Insects account for 75% of all the known species on Earth. What makes them so successful?</span></p> <h2>Insect declines</h2> <p>Around the world, entomologists are looking wistfully into empty nets, and car owners are increasingly unsettled by their pristine windshields. It does not take decades of data collection and a degree to notice that in a human lifetime, our teeming world teems less.</p> <p>The first study to set off alarms was published in 2017 by entomologists in Germany, who reported that over 27 years the biomass of flying insects in their traps <a href="">had declined by 75%</a>. <a href="">Another study</a> from the <a href="">Luquillo Long Term Ecological Research program site</a> in the Puerto Rican rainforest reproduced an insect survey from the 1970s. It found that the biomass of <a href="">arthropods</a> – a large group of organisms that includes insects – had <a href="">declined 10- to 60-fold in that time</a>, and that lizards, frogs and birds that ate arthropods had also declined.</p> <p>Underscoring this theme, in April 2019 two scholars published a review that synthesized over 70 reports of insect decline from around the world, and predicted <a href="">mass insect extinctions within a human lifetime</a>. They took a alarmist tone, and have been widely criticized for <a href="">exaggerating their conclusions</a> and selecting studies to review with the word “decline.”</p> <p>Nonetheless, these researchers had no trouble finding studies to include in their review. Many scientists are currently analyzing the roles that <a href="">climate change</a>, <a href="">land use</a>, chemical pesticides and other factors have played in reported declines in many insect species.</p> <p><img alt="Taylors checkerspot butterfly" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="8299f05a-3ebd-4f62-a2e1-1e9c130ec820" src="/files/inline-images/Taylors%20checkerspot%20butterfly.JPG" /></p> <p><em><span>The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, once found throughout grasslands in the Pacific Northwest, was listed as endangered in 2013. The main cause is habitat loss, driven by development, tree encroachment and spread of invasive plants.</span> <span><a href="">USFWS/Ted Thomas</a>, <a href="">CC BY</a></span></em></p> <h2>The end is not near</h2> <p>These discussions are important, but <a href="">they don’t mean an insect apocalypse is under way</a>. Predicting insect decline <a href="">is hard to do</a> without a lot of effort and data.</p> <p>To predict an apocalypse, entomologists worldwide will need to conduct careful large-scale studies that involve collecting, identifying and counting many different insects. There are very few insects for which scientists have enough data now to reliably predict how many individuals there will be from year to year, let alone confidently chart a decline in each species. Most of the insects for which this information exists are species that are important for agricultural or human health, such as <a href="">managed honey bees</a> or <a href="">mosquitoes</a>.</p> <p>And human actions are shifting balances between insect species. As an example, the mosquitoes that are best at spreading pathogens that cause disease have evolved to thrive near us. Entomologists call them anthropophilic, which means they love people.</p> <p>That love extends to human impacts on the land. Insects that flutter from flower to flower won’t be happy when developers bulldoze a meadow and scatter tires around, but human-biting mosquitoes will be buzzing with excitement.</p> <h2>What else is out there?</h2> <p>Entomologists are uniformly concerned about the fate of insects in today’s changing world. But I believe the responsible approach is to push back on fire-and-brimstone rhetoric until detailed, large-scale studies are completed. Until then, these same gaps in our knowledge also make it hard to rule out that significant declines in diverse insects are happening. These gaps must be filled to illuminate challenges that insects face, from the inconvenient to the apocalyptic.</p> <p>When the majority of insects remain to be described, it’s hard to value them. But here’s one example: Insecticide use in pear groves in China’s Sichuan Province has caused such a decline in native pollinators that beekeepers will not lend their bees to these orchards. These farmers are forced to pollinate their trees by hand – an expensive and time-consuming process <a href="">if you aren’t an insect</a>.</p> <p>Similarly, <a href="">native natural enemies</a> played invisible roles in slowing the spread of the invasive <a href="">brown marmorated stink bug</a> when it was introduced into Pennsylvania in the 1990s. They included wasps that lay their eggs inside of stink bug eggs, and predatory insects and spiders that eat stink bugs eggs for breakfast.</p> <p>Pollination and predation are just the start. Some insects could be sources of <a href="">new drugs</a> or <a href="">traditional dyes</a>, while others <a href="">inspire artists</a> or just provide little moments of inimitable beauty.</p> <p>With so many unanswered questions, it’s clear that there is a need for <a href="">more funding for biodiversity research</a>. It is no coincidence that recent studies reporting massive insect declines came from a <a href="">Long-Term Ecological Research</a> center that is publicly funded through the National Science Foundation and from a <a href="">carefully curated collection</a> made and maintained by entomologists.</p> <p>This kind of work requires money, bold foresight and dedication to science over long periods of time. But it can produce insights into how our world is changing – and that knowledge will help us prepare for the future.</p> <p><span>By <a href="">Brian Lovett</a>, PhD Candidate, <em><a href="">University of Maryland</a></em>. This article is republished from <a href="">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>.<img alt="The Conversation" height="1" src="" width="1" />Top image credit: </span><a href="">Chris Luczkow, CC BY</a><span></span></p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/conversation" lang="" about="/author/conversation" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">The Conversation</a></span> <span>Mon, 04/29/2019 - 10:19</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/environment" hreflang="en">Environment</a></div> </div> </div> Mon, 29 Apr 2019 14:19:50 +0000 The Conversation 151420 at George Monbiot Q + A – How rejuvenating nature could help fight climate change <span>George Monbiot Q + A – How rejuvenating nature could help fight climate change</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><em><a href="">Natural climate solutions</a> let nature do the hard work in the fight against climate change by restoring habitats such as forests and wetlands. This could absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help biodiversity thrive. Stephen Woroniecki – a PhD Researcher in Climate Change Adaptation from Lund University in Sweden – discusses how this approach could address the ecological crisis with Guardian columnist and environmental campaigner George Monbiot.</em></p> <p><strong>Q: What has inspired you about natural solutions to climate change and what are their chief advantages over other approaches?</strong></p> <p>They bring together our two crucial tasks: preventing climate breakdown and preventing ecological breakdown. They are all things we should be doing anyway, to limit the scale of the sixth great extinction and protect and restore threatened ecosystems.</p> <p><img alt="George Monbiot" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="c0873e6f-371c-4336-b111-4090d106399c" src="/files/inline-images/george%20monbiot.jpg" width="500" /></p> <p><em>Author and activist George Monbiot. <span><a href="">John Russell1/Wikipedia</a>, <a href="">CC BY-SA</a></span></em></p> <p>In these fields, as in all others, we have often tended to act in isolation, replicating effort, failing to recognise the synergies. Natural climate solutions show how we can use the self-regulating power of the living world to help fend off climate catastrophe.</p> <p>I should emphasise that even if we use natural climate solutions to the max, we still need to halt almost all greenhouse gas emissions and leave fossil fuels in the ground, if we are to prevent more than 1.5℃ (or even 2℃) of global heating. But it’s now clear that mitigation alone is not enough: we need to draw down carbon that we have already emitted from the atmosphere.</p> <p>The other main strategies for carbon drawdown are both, in my view, disastrous. The first is <a href="">bioenergy with carbon capture and storage</a> (BECCS). This means growing biomass in plantations, burning it in power stations to produce electricity, capturing carbon dioxide from the exhaust gases and burying it in geological formations.</p> <p>Any deployment of BECCS sufficient to cause significant carbon abatement will also cause either humanitarian or ecological disaster, because of the vast amount of land – cropland or wild land – the plantations will replace. It is also likely to be self-defeating, due to the massive carbon pulse that conversion of forest lands to plantations will cause, and the vast amount of extra nitrogen fertiliser required, <a href="">with its associated greenhouse gas emissions</a>.</p> <p>The second is <a href="">direct air capture</a>. Not only is this likely to be extremely expensive, but the carbon-heavy infrastructure it requires, reliant on a huge deployment of steel and concrete, could help push us past crucial climate tipping points before its positive impacts were felt.</p> <p>These are both bad ways of addressing the problem. Why deploy them when there’s a much better one?</p> <p><strong>Q: Clearly this is an emerging field, and research is needed to understand how best to implement natural climate solutions. What are some of the boldest and most exciting examples that have already been tried across the world that we can learn from and be inspired by?</strong></p> <p>At the moment, the two biggest identified carbon sinks are <a href=";rep=rep1&amp;type=pdf">forests</a> and <a href="">peatlands</a>, but one of the things that excites me most about this field is how little we yet know. Every year, major new possibilities are identified, in ecosystems that hadn’t been fully considered before. For example, we now know that vegetated coastal habitats – such as mangroves, saltmarsh and seagrass beds – can <a href="">accumulate carbon 40 times as quickly</a> per hectare as tropical forests can, because of the way they catch and bury organic sediments in waterlogged conditions.</p> <p><img alt="" src=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" /></p> <p><span>Coastal habitats like mangrove forests can store significantly more carbon than inland habitats.</span> <span><a href="">Damsea/Shutterstock</a></span></p> <p>One issue that has scarcely been explored at all is the carbon storage impact of stopping trawling and dredging. <a href="">The seabed is a vast carbon store</a>, but these activities, that <a href="">scour over three quarters of shelf seas</a> every year, kick carbon into the water column, where it can be oxidised and released. We don’t yet know for sure, as so little research has been done, but it could be that severely curtailing these destructive activities, which we should do anyway, as they are by far the greatest cause of ecological damage to marine habitats, could result in massively greater carbon storage.</p> <p>I should mention two key principles. First, that this isn’t just about creating new or renewed ecosystems. We also need to protect the Earth’s existing carbon repositories – such as old growth forests – whose sequestration capacity would take centuries to reproduce. Second, that fertile cropland should not be used. Mass rewilding of the kind I propose should take place only on less productive land. Unlike BECCS plantations, natural ecosystems can thrive on infertile land, without extra fertilisation.</p> <p><strong>Q: The proposal for a Green New Deal in the US has called for a green transition of society and the economy through investment in renewable energy and by phasing out fossil fuels. How do you see the role of natural climate solutions within a broader transformation of our society and the world we live in?</strong></p> <p>I think natural climate solutions now need to be urgently deployed by all governments, alongside extremely rapid reduction in energy consumption and substitution of fossil fuels. To avoid full-spectrum climate breakdown, we need a global cooperative effort on a scale that has not yet materialised. My hope is that the new, uncompromising mood among young people, and the brilliant protest movements, such as the Youth Strike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion, will help to make this happen.</p> <p><strong>Q: Geoengineering proposals are often criticised for taking risks with natural systems that could have catastrophic consequences, often with little to no consultation from the people who could be most affected. How do we ensure natural solutions are carried out democratically and without echoing the technocratic arguments of many geoengineering projects?</strong></p> <p>Whatever we do has to be done with and through the people it might affect, under the “nothing about us without us” principle. Natural climate solutions must work with the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous people and other local communities, and their benefits must flow to these communities. No project should be pursued that undermines their land rights, economic security and well-being. On the contrary, all projects should seek to strengthen them. There are some excellent examples of how this can be done around the world, compiled by <a href="">the Equator Initiative</a>.</p> <p><strong>Q: Restoring natural habitats can sometimes mean giving authority to external experts at the expense of local people. What do you think is important to bear in mind when making the case for natural solutions to local communities?</strong></p> <p><a href=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img alt="" src=";q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=237&amp;fit=clip" /></a></p> <p><span>A rain-fed home garden in Sri Lanka which grows food for people and offers refuge for nature.</span> <span><span>Stephen Woroniecki</span>, <span>Author provided</span></span></p> <p>I believe all projects should be guided by the Freirean approach – developed by the Brazilian philosopher Paolo Freire – of mutual education and understanding. An outsider should not turn up with the attitude that she has come to impart her superior knowledge to local people. She starts by asking them to teach her about themselves, their lives and needs, and to exchange knowledge, in the hope that all become both educators and educated. The outsider might bring new ideas and perspectives – that are, I believe, essential – while local people bring intimate insights into and knowledge of the peculiarities of place and community, that are also essential.</p> <p><strong>Q: How can people get involved in designing, implementing and managing natural solutions to climate change?</strong></p> <p><a href="">We list on our website</a> the organisations already involved in the field, some of whom would welcome your help. But the most important thing right now is to spread the word as far as you can.</p> <img src="" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><p><span>By <a href="">Stephen Woroniecki</a>, PhD Researcher in Sustainability and Climate Change Adaptation, <em><a href="">Lund University</a></em></span>This article is republished from <a href="">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="">original article</a>.</p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/conversation" lang="" about="/author/conversation" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">The Conversation</a></span> <span>Thu, 04/11/2019 - 12:42</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/environment" hreflang="en">Environment</a></div> </div> </div> Thu, 11 Apr 2019 16:42:09 +0000 The Conversation 151418 at Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology Entries Accepted Until June 15, 2019 <span>Eppendorf &amp; Science Prize for Neurobiology Entries Accepted Until June 15, 2019</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Researchers 35 years and younger, the annual Eppendorf &amp;Science Prize for Neurobiology, which is awarded for contributions to neurobiological research based on methods of molecular and cell biology, is now open for entries.<br /><br /> Applying requires a 1,000-word essay and tell the prize committee about your work.<br /><br /> The prize is $25,000 plus Science magazine will publish an essay about your work. You'll have travel paid to the Prize Ceremony held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in the USA and AAAS throws in a 10-year AAAS membership (but only a digital subscription to the magazine).</p> <p><img src="" /></p> <p>The application deadline is June 15, 2019. Apply <a href="">here</a>.</p> <p> </p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/hankcampbell" lang="" about="/author/hankcampbell" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">hank_campbell</a></span> <span>Wed, 04/03/2019 - 10:38</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Wed, 03 Apr 2019 14:38:26 +0000 hank_campbell 151416 at The antivaccine conspiracy theory narrative: You want it darker? <span>The antivaccine conspiracy theory narrative: You want it darker?</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Some of you might have been wondering just WTF has been going on here on the old blog, given the relative paucity of posts over the last week and the "reruns" from the distant past that I've been posting. I address this question because I realize that not everyone reads the comments and it's quite possible some of you might have missed it, but here in Michigan we had an enormous windstorm last Wednesday that knocked out power to 800,000+ people. Unfortunately, Orac was one of them. True, we did get the power back over the weekend, but then, in a cruel twist of fate, we lot power again on Tuesday, which is why there was no post yesterday. Even better, the power came back Wednesday morning as I was getting ready to head to Seattle to attend the yearly Society of Surgical Oncology meeting, only to die after about an hour. So that's three—count 'em—three times we've lost power in the last week, during a time period when we've had the coldest weather in March I can remember in a long time. I tell ya, I just can't win this week.</p> <p>Now that that's out of the way, I can't help but make the observation that stuff happened while I was (mostly) offline. One thing that caught my eye is that <a href="">Steve Novella discovered the wonder of delusion that is Kent Heckenlively</a>. You remember Kent, don't you? I first encountered him when he was a member of the merry band of pseudoscience-worshiping antivaccine warriors over at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism. What attracted my attention was how what he did to his daughter to try to "cure" her of her autism opened my eyes wider to the lengths to which antivaccine parents will go and how far into quackery they will delve in order to "save" their child. In Heckenlively's case, he hit is daughter's grandparents up for $15,000 to take her to a dubious stem cell clinic in Costa Rica for "stem cell" injections directly into her cerebrospinal fluid. Not surprisingly, it didn't work.</p> <!--more--> <p>Let's just put it this way. Heckenlively is so far off the ranch that even that apparently even that wretched hive of antivaccine scum and quackery that is AoA is insufficiently conspiratorial. I can only conclude that because I don't recall the last time I saw him post anything at AoA and, more importantly, he how appears to have found a home with Patrick "Tim" Bolen, a.k.a. Hulda Clark's pit bull, at least back when Hulda Clark was still alive. Clark, if you remember, proclaimed that all cancer and AIDS were caused by a liver fluke and could be cured using her "zapper," which always reminded me of a Scientology E-meter. In any case, I looked it up, and Heckenlively hasn't appeared in AoA since last July, while since June he's been tearing up <a href="" rel="nofollow">The Bolen Report</a>. This is <em>not</em> a step up. When next we see Heckenlively switch jobs, I fear we'll see him heading to the next logical place, Mike Adams' Natural News. Really, it's where he belongs. But I digress.</p> <p>In any case, Steve used a post by Heckenlively published earlier this week entitled <a href="" rel="nofollow">A Vaccine-Free World?…</a> to note that the <a href="">antivaccine narrative just gets darker</a>. And he's right (as usual). The antivaccine narrative has been steadily getting darker and darker in the 12 years that I've been actively paying attention and writing about it. However, seeing Steve's post, I couldn't help but channel Leonard Cohen's last album before he died, which was entitled <a href="">You Want It Darker</a>. Remember, this is an album made by a man who knew he was going to die soon.</p> <p>Yes, antivaccine activists do want it darker. Also remember that in any story (and that's what conspiracy theories are, in essence) there is a victim, a hero, and a villain. Guess who plays these roles in Heckenlively's fantasies? You'll see in a moment. In the meantime, join him on his magical mystery tour of his dark fantasy:</p> <blockquote><p>Remove all vaccines from usage for a period of five years, study them in laboratories and in animal models, then create a system to slowly introduce one vaccine at a time and monitor for long-term effects before even thinking of introducing a second vaccine. Oh, and while that’s being done, immediately REPEAL AND DON’T REPLACE the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act which currently gives pharmaceutical companies COMPLETE IMMUNITY FOR HARM DONE BY THEIR PRODUCTS.</p></blockquote> <p>Steve didn't really dwell much on this part of Heckenlively's screed, but I want to. What it demonstrates is just how fully deluded he is. He has utterly and literally no clue just how massively unethical such a plan would be. The reasons are numerous and range from the incredibly simple to grasp to more complicated. Basically, it is unethical to perform an experiment in which children are intentionally left unprotected from common dieseases that can be prevented by vaccines. Worse, Heckenlively's plan would take not just years, but likely decades, during which diseases like measles, mumps, diptheria, and pertussis would predictably come roaring back. After all, that's what happened in the UK when Andrew Wakefield's campaign to discredit the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, aided and abetted by the complicit tabloid press, resulted in plunging vaccine rates. Measles, once eliminated, came roaring back. The same thing happened in Europe. Thus far in the US we've managed to avoid a resurgence as enormous, but there are worrisome signs that that could change, such as the <a href="">Disneyland measles outbreak</a> and declining vaccine uptake due to <a href="">increasing numbers of personal belief exemptions to school vaccine mandates</a> in Texas. Add to that other outbreaks, such as in my very own state, and it's hard not to conclude that herd immunity is hanging by a thread in too many places where critical masses of the vaccine-averse and antivaccine reside. There are, of course, many other problems besides ethics with Heckenlively's idea, not the least of which is how utterly expensive and impractical it would be.</p> <p>Of course, such an experiment might—I repeat, might—be justified if there were massive and overwhelming evidence that the current vaccine schedule was causing horrible harm to huge numbers of children. The evidence, however, would have to be so obvious and irrefutable that not even Paul Offit or I could deny it. Even then, under such a circumstance, we would still want to figure out a strategy to determine what is causing harm that wouldn't inevitably result in wholesale outbreaks of infectious disease. Of course, if you're Kent Heckenlively, you believe the situation is just that apocalyptic and the evidence that irrefutable. That's where he and much of the antivaccine movement diverge with reality. They express sentiments like this:</p> <blockquote><p>We know that vaccines are causing MASSIVE DAMAGE to the health of our young and contributing to the massive epidemics of chronic diseases among those of working age and the dementias of the elderly. Don’t believe me? Just read the vaccine safety inserts. I hear Alex Jones and InfoWars are going to be doing their own series of special reports on THE VACCINE SIDE EFFECTS LISTED ON THE INSERTS. (That’s just the things the pharmaceutical companies admit!) I’m looking forward to that. Worried that it’s “Fake News?” That’s easy to remedy. If you have any questions, just go to your local pharmacy and ask for the inserts yourself.</p></blockquote> <p>Ah, yes, the appeal to the package insert. We should figure out a name for this logical fallacy, if someone hasn't already. Oh, yes, the ancient reptilian <a href="">Skeptical Raptor already has</a>, argumentum ad package insert. Oh, wait, <a href="">that was me</a>. (We'll just have to share the credit.) In any case, as Steve, and the Raptor (and I) have pointed out, package inserts are <em>legal</em> documents, <em>not</em> scientific documents. They are designed to cover the asses of the pharmaceutical companies, not to dispassionately list adverse events definitely linked to the vaccine or drug. Pretty much every bad thing that happened to any participant in the clinical trials leading to the licensing of a vaccine or drug is listed, whether that bad thing had anything to do with the vaccine or drug or not. Heckenlively, who loudly proclaims his JD (even though he doesn't practice law), should know that, but instead he says things like " In the legal system, such admissions are considered “clues.” Um, no. such "admissions" are there for one purpose and one purpose only, to protect the pharmaceutical company.</p> <p>Of course, in Heckenlively's world, the nonexistent horror he describes is not due to negligence. Well, that's not entirely true. There is negligence there, or at least there was to begin with. However, after that, the reason this "suffering" continues is because "They" want it to. Remember what I said about every story needing a victim, a hero, and a villain? Well, the victims in Heckenlively's world are the children. Clearly, the villain is...well, it's not always clear exactly who is the villain, but it is always some combination of pharmaceutical companies, the government (usually the CDC, but often the FDA as well), state medical authorities, politicians who support school vaccine mandates (because, in Heckenlively's view, they are in the pockets of big pharma, natch), and the medical profession, all of whom deny based on science his evidence- and science-free beliefs that vaccines are horrifically harmful. Guess whom, that leaves as the hero? You guessed it:</p> <p> </p> <blockquote><p>But I thought when people like me raised our voices and claimed vaccines were harming the human species, that somebody in a position of authority in government or science would do some proper investigation. However, as I researched my book, INOCULATED: How Science Lost its Soul I had to confront some dark truths about the corruption of the American body politic. No matter how cynical I was about whether people in our government cared about children with autism, and the wholesale destruction of our species by vaccines, I wasn’t cynical enough. We tried to work with our health authorities. They turned a deaf ear.</p></blockquote> <p> </p> <p>So the battle lines are drawn. I did, however, forget one other villain, namely the press. After all, the press has increasingly (and correctly) treating antivaccine activists like Heckenlively as the fringe loons they are. So they must be paid off. I just saw a particularly telling article on that score, although it was not by Heckenlively. Rather, it was by Anne Dachel, published over at AoA, and entitled, <a href="" rel="nofollow">Dachel Wake Up: Julia Belluz Is CDC's Company Gal!</a>, which basically accuses an excellent journalist who's done some great stories on health and medicine as being in the pockets of pharma, along with the CDC. Because in Heckenlively's world, no one could ever be pro-vaccine unless it was because he or she was in the pocket of big pharma.</p> <p>One key aspect of these dark conspiracy theories is the "hidden knowledge" narrative. Yes, the CDC, FDA, big pharma, and medical-industrial complex might have bamboozled the sheeple, but there are people who know, man. They've WOKEN UP (to borrow Heckenlively's all-caps):</p> <p> </p> <blockquote><p>I don’t care how much the mainstream media, funded by the waning pharmaceutical dollars continues to whip up hysteria, it won’t work. We all see the casualties in our schools, in our homes, and on our streets. A brutal reckoning is coming for those who have allowed this harm to children to take place.</p></blockquote> <blockquote><p> </p></blockquote> <p>Now do you see where all the comparisons with Nazis, the Holocaust, and death camps come from? People like Heckenlively truly believe that vaccines are so evil and those who promote them even more so. But Heckenlively imagines himself to be so much better than that. Elsewhere he as written about <a href="" rel="nofollow&gt;The Coming War And Its Aftermath...&lt;/a&gt;, where he compares himself to Nelson Mandela, while invoking Galileo (of course!):&lt;/p&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&#10;&lt;blockquote&gt;&lt;p&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&#10;And so I am left with Mandela’s wisdom. Do I have anger and bitterness to me about the eighteen years I have been trapped in the prison of my daughter’s autism? Without a doubt.&lt;/p&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&#10;&lt;p&gt;But I believe that this era of injustice is coming to an end. The enemies of truth never fight so viciously as when they understand they are very close to losing. The legal fight over SB 277 looks very promising to me, and I am aware of how even in the midst of this scientific reign of terror, some very brave researchers are coming close to solving this problem and recovering our children. I do not believe we will be in our prisons very much longer.&lt;br /&gt;&#10;&lt;/p&gt;&lt;/blockquote&gt;&lt;br /&gt;&#10;&lt;p&gt;Unfortunately, many of the sheeple reject Heckenlively's message of salvation (and, make no mistake, he is peddling what is basically a religious narrative of contamination, sin, and salvation, gussied up as an antivaccine narrative). Particularly hilarious is a post of his in which he pleads with his friends, ">I’m Not Asking You to Smoke Crystal Meth . . . I Just Want You to Watch a Documentary</a>." (Having seen the movie, I'll take the crystal meth, please. It couldn't be any worse.) The movie to which he is referring, of course, is <a href="">VAXXED</a>, Andrew Wakefield's antivaccine propaganda film disguised as a documentary. Hilariously, his friends were...less than receptive.</p> <blockquote><p>I have been astounded by the response of some long-time friends who when I say, “Hey, there’s this documentary about a whistle-blower at the CDC and the cover-up of the link between vaccines and autism, do you want to come and see it?” They act like I’m denying the existence of God. No, scratch that. If I asked them to come to a movie about an atheist, I’d get a better response. In very poignant emails back to me they have said that they will not even put at risk their “fugitive and cloistered virtue” (to steal from the poet, John Milton) by exposing themselves to the possibility that the government is lying to them.</p></blockquote> <p>Or maybe they recognize a ridiculous conspiracy theory when they see one. Kent has some smart friends. I wonder why they're friends with Ken, given that he must harangue them frequently about his antivaccine beliefs. Of course, the most important part of the conspiracy theory is hope and how it allows people like Heckenlively to view themselves as heroic crusaders against evil. For example, I've cited how Heckenlively shares one characteristic with me. (Embarrassing, but true.) He really, really loves J.R.R. Tolkien's <em>The Lord of the Rings</em>, so much so that <a href="" rel="nofollow">he actually wrote this</a> back when he was still a regular at AoA:</p> <blockquote><p>When I watch I imagine myself as Aragorn, taking the Dimholt Road under the mountain, clutching the sword, Anduril, Flame of the West, offering a deal to the souls of the dishonored dead if they would join me in battle. I picture myself as Aragon, astride my horse in front of the Black Gate, telling my troops, <em>I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight!</em> Then I jump off my horse, and with the setting sun behind me, a reckless, almost manic glint in my eye and a crooked grin, I am first to charge into the enemy army.</p></blockquote> <p>This is, of course, one of my favorite scenes from both <em>The Lord of the Rings</em> books and the movies. In it, the last heir of Isildur, Aragorn, had brought his forces to the Black Gate of Mordor to challenge the Dark Lord Sauron to battle, not with any hope of victory, but as a diversion to distract the Eye of Sauron long enough to allow the hobbits Frodo and Sam to cross Mordor and reach Mount Doom, there to destroy the One Ring, the source of Sauron’s evil power, by throwing it into the molten lava in the Crack of Doom. Aragorn, Gandalf, and his companions fully expected to die in the effort, and it looked as though they would do just that after hordes of orcs issued forth from the Black Gate and the battle was joined. They were saved because Sam and Frodo did reach Mount Doom and the ring was destroyed, thus destroying Sauron’s power and causing his armies to flee, before the hordes of Sauron’s orc’s could destroy Aragorn and his vastly outnumbered force. The point, of course, is that Heckenlively views himself (or fantasizes himself) as a heroic figure from the world of epic fantasy like Aragorn. Walter Mitty-like, Heckenlively fantasizes that it’s him leading a doomed mission to the very Black Gate of Mordor, knowing he’s unlikely to come out of it alive, in order to give others the chance to defeat the great evil against which he strives.</p> <p>And, have no doubt, victory is the <a href="">only outcome that Heckenlively envisions</a>:</p> <blockquote><p><strong>Here’s how the Vaccine-Autism war ends.</strong> <strong>We win. They lose.</strong> The memory of what they have done will cling to their children for generations to come, like the children of Nazi war criminals who were horrified by the crimes of their parents. And what about us? We were the resistance. We were the freedom-fighters. We fought to protect the future. And we will tell our stories.</p></blockquote> <p>He even <a href="" rel="nofollow">fantasizes about pro-vaccine activists</a> as French nobility dragged to the guillotine to have their heads lopped off during the French Revolution and hopes for some "reasonable" (i.e., compliant") provaccine advocates, whom he contrasts to the French aristocracy before the Revolution:</p> <blockquote><p>The white majority in South Africa knew they were losing to Nelson Mandela’s call for justice and they took actions which averted a catastrophe. Even though the British ended up fighting a war with us, there were voices in England who thought that the whole affair was utter madness. Eventually, their views prevailed. Hell, even some Nazis could see where Hitler was leading them after D-Day and tried to change things by blowing him up.</p></blockquote> <p>He's even offered pro-vaxxers a way out in a post entitled, <a href="" rel="nofollow">I Will Accept Your Surrender</a>:</p> <blockquote><p>I've made this offer several times in the past. I'm making it again. I am willing to accept the surrender of those who have perverted science, harmed a generation of children, and even as of this late date are willing to harm more children so as to not to upset the balance of their lives. It must be truly troubling for those who continue to fuel the epidemic of autism and other chronic diseases that even though you still maintain the trust of those in the media, the scientific community, and most of the people in politics, an amazing 39% of the population in a recent Fox News poll believe parents need to have the right to decide how and whether their children can be vaccinated. You see, I've interviewed enough scientists that I understand the world in which you operate. Although you tremble in fear when you confront the dark questions at the heart of why so many children and adults suffer with chronic diseases, you feel quite comfortable making others cower as has been done to you. It must really annoy you when you fulminate against us as if we were some extremist group, that somehow you can't get the rest of the population to fully buy it.</p></blockquote> <p>I politely decline to surrender. Writing about this, I realize that perhaps Steve dwelt a bit too much on the darkness in the antivaccine conspiracy theory. Yes, I've referred to the <a href="">central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement</a> as the idea that, somewhere in the CDC, big pharma, and the medical profession, "They" know that vaccines cause autism and all sorts of harm to children. That's why the whole "CDC whistleblower" conspiracy theory was so powerful. It tapped deep into the fantasies of antivaxers; he claims that data potentially showing a link between vaccines and autism were covered up by the CDC. However, darkness alone isn't enough. Who would continue to believe in a conspiracy theory where there is nothing but darkness and overwhelming forces arrayed against you that you have no hope of ever defeating? No, it's the hope of ultimate vindication, of victory, that sustains the antivaccine conspiracy narrative. It's the fantasy of fighting a heroic battle against all odds. It's the fantasy of one day actually winning that epic battle. It's the fantasy of being able to administer their version of "justice" to their enemies, in which evildoers admit their evil can atone and join the resistance and those who are defeated are punished for their "crimes" after the resistance wins. This is both a light and dark vision. It's a vision of light in that (to antivaxers), it's justice. Those responsible for the "crimes" imagined by antivaxers will be forced to admit their crimes and pay for them. It's a dark vision in that this "justice" not infrequently involves retribution. It's not for nothing that Heckenlively perseverates over Nazis and chose the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution as an example of retribution.</p> <p>It's a very powerful narrative that taps deep into something buried at the heart of human nature. It's also pretty much immune to reason. It's a conspiracy theory that's potent even in "normal" times. However, we are not living in normal times. Donald Trump, who has a long and sordid history of antivaccine statements, is the President, and that gives people like Heckenlively even more hope that they are winning:</p> <blockquote><p><strong>Let’s talk about what’s really causing the Vaxxers to lose their f******* minds.</strong> Donald Trump won the American election. He doesn’t trust the pharmaceutical companies and he is going to put into positions of power those people who don’t trust them, either. The free ride is over. Hell, he even nominated Robert Kennedy, Jr., member of a legendary Democratic dynasty and well-known environmental lawyer, to head a Commission on Vaccine Safety and Scientific Integrity.</p></blockquote> <p>I guess Trump's distrust of the pharmaceutical industry is why he promised to loosen FDA regulations and then appointed an <a href="">honest-to-goodness pharma shill</a> as the FDA Commissioner, causing pharma to <a href="">breathe a sigh of relief</a> and proclaim, "Thank God it's Gottlieb!" (Antivaxers were never too strong on consistency.) Also, it's not at all clear that RFK, Jr. was appointed to anything; all we have is his word for it, and you know what that's worth. (Not much.)</p> <p>I fear what will happen when antivaxers like Heckenlively finally realize that Trump is very likely <b><i>not</i></b> going to do what they want him to, other than perhaps around the edges. It could be scary. After all, another part of many conspiracy narratives is betrayal by someone viewed as an ally.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/oracknows" lang="" about="/oracknows" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">oracknows</a></span> <span>Wed, 03/15/2017 - 22:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/environment" hreflang="en">Environment</a></div> </div> </div> Thu, 16 Mar 2017 02:00:09 +0000 oracknows 22512 at The USA is still yielding lots of new extant tetrapod species <span>The USA is still yielding lots of new extant tetrapod species</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><form class="mt-enclosure mt-enclosure-image" mt:asset-id="15881" style="display: inline;"><img alt="i-dab8fef3507da95dd470bad6024bbf5d-Patch-nosed_salamander_with_coin_July-2009.jpg" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="d047821d-f5fa-40f4-b650-c89d88764084" src="/files/inline-images/i-dab8fef3507da95dd470bad6024bbf5d-Patch-nosed_salamander_with_coin_July-2009.jpg" /></form> <p><span style="float: left; padding: 5px;"><a href=""><img alt="" data-entity-type="" data-entity-uuid="" src="" style="border:0;" /></a></span> The naming of new amphibian species is a fairly routine thing. This doesn't mean that - despite the <a href="">global amphibian crisis</a> - amphibians are actually ok and that we can stop worrying; it means that we haven't been paying enough attention, and indeed many of the species that are being named anew are endangered, or threatened, or with tiny ranges.</p> <p>The current edition of <em>Journal of Zoology</em> includes the description of a new plethodontid salamander (aka lungless salamander): the Patch-nosed salamander <em>Urspelerpes brucei</em> Camp <em>et al</em>., 2009. The big deal about this entirely new species is that it's from the Appalachian foothills of Georgia, USA.</p> <p><!--more--></p><p>Genetic data reveal that the Patch-nosed salamander is highly distinct relative to other taxa (it's most closely related to <em>Eurycea</em>, the American brook salamanders), but it's also unusual in exhibiting obvious sexual dimorphism in pigmentation: females are brownish and rather plain, while males have a pair of dark stripes running along their sides and are yellowish on the dorsal surface [see photo below, by T. Lamb]. Both sexes possess the yellow nose patch. Males are also reported to have one less vertebra than females. However, while size dimorphism is common in plethodontids, male and females of the Patch-nosed salamander are similar in size.</p> <p>It's also morphologically unusual in having five (rather than four) toes. So far, very little (read: essentially nothing) is known of its behaviour and lifestyle (Camp <em>et al</em>. 2009).</p> <p><img alt="i-d4e3327e449f28ea97453d8dc1cf0255-Urspelerpes-brucei-new-version-Mar-2011.jpg" data-entity-type="" data-entity-uuid="" src="" /></p> <p>New plethodontid species are discovered fairly frequently, especially in <strike>South</strike> Central America: four have been named so far in 2009 (Sierra de las Minas hidden salamander <em>Cryptotriton sierraminensis</em> from Guatemala, <em>Bolitoglossa cataguana</em> from Honduras, Robinson's web-footed salamander <em>B. robinsoni</em> and the Pygmy web-footed salamander <em>B. pygmaea </em> from the Costa Rica-Panamá border region).</p> <form class="mt-enclosure mt-enclosure-image" mt:asset-id="15884" style="display: inline;"><img alt="i-72dccf55db2a69eb921d1b8961bc7e1b-Batrachoseps_attenuatus_wikipedia_July-2009.jpg" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="cf830671-c6dd-4602-9afe-7c84f20e89bd" src="/files/inline-images/i-72dccf55db2a69eb921d1b8961bc7e1b-Batrachoseps_attenuatus_wikipedia_July-2009.jpg" /></form> <p>However, the USA has revealed a pretty impressive list of new plethodontids too. A plethodontid from the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California was named in 1996 (the San Gabriel slender salamander <em>Batrachoseps gabrieli</em> Wake, 1996), while the Hell Hollow slender salamander <em>B. diabolicus</em> Jockusch <em>et al</em>., 1998, Gregarious slender salamander <em>B. gregarius</em> Jockusch <em>et al</em>., 1998 and Kings River slender salamander <em>B. regius</em> Jockusch <em>et al</em>., 1998 were all described from the Sierra Nevada in 1998. 1998 also saw the description of the Sequioa slender salamander <em>B. kawia</em> Jockusch <em>et al</em>., 1998 from California's Tulare County. The Wandering salamander <em>Aneides vagrans</em> Wake &amp; Jackman, 1999 from California was recognised as distinct relative to the Rusty salamander <em>A. ferreus</em> in 1999. The Gabilan Mountains slender salamander <em>B. gavilanensis</em> Jockusch <em>et al</em>., 2001 was first reported from San Benito County in California in 2001, and the San Simeon slender salamander <em>B. incognitus</em> Jockusch <em>et al</em>., 2001 was described from the Californian Santa Lucia Mountains in the same year [California slender salamander <em>B. attenuatus</em> shown here, from wikipedia. Not a new species: named in 1833].</p> <p>Another plethodontid collected from Tulare County, California, in 1991 (though with an initially misidentified member of the species having been reported in 1973), proved to be yet another new species (the Kern Plateau salamander <em>Batrachoseps robustus</em> Wake <em>et al</em>., 2002), and the Santa Lucia Mountains also yielded both the San Lucia Mountains slender salamander <em>B. luciae</em> Jockusch <em>et al</em>., 2001 and the Lesser slender salamander <em>B. minor</em> Jockusch <em>et al</em>., 2001. Five plethodontids belonging to <em>Eurycea</em>, the Barton Springs salamander <em>E. sosorum</em> Chippindale <em>et al</em>., 1993, the Jollyville Plateau salamander <em>E. tonkawae</em> Chippindale <em>et al</em>., 2000, the Salado salamander <em>Eurycea chisholmensis</em> Chippindale <em>et al</em>., 2000, the Georgetown salamander <em>E. naufragua</em> Chippindale <em>et al</em>., 2000 and the Austin blind salamander <em>E. waterlooensis</em> Hillis <em>et al</em>., 2001, have all been described from Texas since 1993. Chamberlain's dwarf salamander <em>Eurycea chamberlaini</em> Harrison &amp; Guttman, 2003 was described from South Carolina in 2003 (it was not technically new, as the populations raised to species status had previously been identified as belonging to <em>E. quadridigitata</em>), and was later reported from Georgia and Alabama. The Cumberland dusky salamander <em>Desmognathus abditus</em> Anderson &amp; Tilley, 2003 was discovered in Tennessee and the Dwarf black-bellied salamander <em>D. folkertsi</em> Camp <em>et al</em>., 2002 was described from Georgia (and later discovered in North Carolina).</p> <p>The Scottbar salamander <em>Plethodon asupak</em> Mead <em>et al</em>., 2005 is yet another recently named Californian plethodontid; both the South Mountain grey-cheeked salamander <em>P. meridianus</em> Highton &amp; Peabody, 2000 and Cheoah Bald salamander <em>P. cheoah</em> Highton &amp; Peabody, 2000 are from North Carolina while the Big Levels salamander <em>B. sherando</em> Highton, 2004 is from Virginia.</p> <p>And this is far from a complete list... I think you get the point. All very well and good, but these are species: the most recently named new genus from the USA is the Red Hills salamander <em>Phaeognathus hubrichti</em>, named in 1961: more than four decades ago. In that it is apparently not part of any of the clades currently regarded as genera, the Patch-nosed salamander is hence quite an important taxon: it represents an entirely new, hitherto unknown lineage [Patch-nosed salamander below, photo by T. Lamb].</p> <form class="mt-enclosure mt-enclosure-image" mt:asset-id="15883" style="display: inline;"><img alt="i-ef62b62e543a619c9731c45c1d19887a-Patch-nosed_salamander_T_Lamb_head-shot_July-2009.jpg" data-entity-type="file" data-entity-uuid="ec9e91c1-bf0f-424a-89e0-c42af8ea92c5" src="/files/inline-images/i-ef62b62e543a619c9731c45c1d19887a-Patch-nosed_salamander_T_Lamb_head-shot_July-2009.jpg" /></form> <p>Ok, the Patch-nosed salamander might be tiny (it's less than 6 cm long), but the fact that the USA continues to yield new taxa even now indicates that one of the most advanced nations in the world still has a lot to offer. Indeed, you might use discoveries like this to argue that the fauna of the USA - even its tetrapod fauna - still has yet to be fully documented (and some have made this very argument). Then again, it might not be fair to single out the USA in this fashion. Here in Europe - where you might say we have a slight historical advantage in terms of scientific exploration - there are entirely new animals too, like the Black olm <em>Proteus anguinus parkelj</em> Sket &amp; Arntzen, 1994... though this is, ostensibly, 'just' a new subspecies and not a genus... and it's one of only a handful of post-1990 discoveries (compare that with the more than 20 new American plethodontids listed above).</p> <p>And, yes, the Patch-nosed salamander is described as being of immediate conservation concern.</p> <p>For more on plethodontids see...</p> <ul><li><a href="">Coprophagy and the giraffe-neck program: more on plethodontids</a></li> <li><a href="">The wonder that is the internally fertilizing salamander clade: caudates part II</a></li> </ul><p>Ref - - <span class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=Journal+of+Zoology&amp;rft_id=info%3Adoi%2F10.1111%2Fj.1469-7998.2009.00593.x&amp;;rft.atitle=A+new+genus+and+species+of+lungless+salamander+%28family+Plethodontidae%29+from+the+Appalachian+highlands+of+the+south-eastern+United+States&amp;rft.issn=09528369&amp;;rft.volume=279&amp;rft.issue=1&amp;rft.spage=86&amp;rft.epage=94&amp;;;;;;;;rfe_dat=bpr3.included=1;bpr3.tags=Biology%2CZoology%2C+Taxonomy%2C+Evolutionary+Biology">Camp, C., Peterman, W., Milanovich, J., Lamb, T., Maerz, J., &amp; Wake, D. (2009). A new genus and species of lungless salamander (family Plethodontidae) from the Appalachian highlands of the south-eastern United States <span style="font-style: italic;">Journal of Zoology, 279</span> (1), 86-94 DOI: <a href="" rev="review">10.1111/j.1469-7998.2009.00593.x</a></span></p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/tetrapodzoology" lang="" about="/author/tetrapodzoology" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">tetrapodzoology</a></span> <span>Sun, 07/12/2009 - 01:45</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/life-sciences" hreflang="en">Life Sciences</a></div> </div> </div> Sun, 12 Jul 2009 05:45:00 +0000 tetrapodzoology 91622 at