Category Archives: Science

Rule Five Warmer Weather Friday

There has been a fair amount of talk about how warm weather will reduce the Kung Flu virus, as it routinely does the flu virii.  But Smithsonian’s Dr. Katherine Wu is skeptical.  Excerpt:

COVID-19 is not the flu. But amidst the ongoing pandemic, many people hold out hope that the two diseases have something crucial in common: a seasonality that will loosen the global grip of SARS-CoV-2 as the weather warms.

Many infectious diseases wax and wane with the changing months. Some, like flu, spike when the weather turns cold, while others, like cholera, thrive during warm, rainy summers. Whether such a pattern applies to SARS-CoV-2 is unclear. With spring just barely sprung, scientists haven’t had the time to suss out SARS-CoV-2’s annual schedule—if it sticks to one at all.

Besides, relying on seasonality to curb a pandemic can be a dangerous line of thought, says C. Brandon Ogbunu, a computational epidemiologist at Brown University.

“Seasonality has the potential to decrease the rate of infection,” he says. But this factor alone won’t get the world anywhere close to resolving the outbreak. “If I was a betting person … all [my money] would be on the impact of human behavior and infrastructure” to slow transmission, he adds. “That’s where we need to put our emphasis.”

Why Are Diseases Seasonal, Anyway?

The first time a severe infectious disease tears through a new population, it’s sure to wreak havoc. Without previous exposure, no members of the community are immune, leaving the virus with numerous potential hosts to sustain it for months to come, regardless of the weather forecast.

Columbia University epidemiologist Micaela Martinez compares early outbreaks to a fire igniting in a forest full of kindling. The occasional rainstorm might do a bit to slow the conflagration. But with so many vulnerable trees, a touch of precipitation would be nowhere near enough to snuff out the flames. “For the first wave, the seasonality is not as relevant,” she says. “We can’t expect [the virus] to just go away.”

And that’s the rub.

Here’s another take on this from Dr. Marc Lipsitch, a Professor of Epidemiology and Director, Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health:

For the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, we have reason to expect that like other betacoronaviruses, it may transmit somewhat more efficiently in winter than summer, though we don’t know the mechanism(s) responsible. The size of the change is expected to be modest, and not enough to stop transmission on its own.  Based on the analogy of pandemic flu, we expect that SARS-CoV-2, as a virus new to humans, will face less immunity and thus transmit more readily even outside of the winter season. Changing seasons and school vacation may help, but are unlikely to stop transmission. Urgent for effective policy is to determine if children are important transmitters, in which case school closures may help slow transmission, or not, in which case resources would be wasted in such closures. Previously it was thought children were not easily infected with SARS-CoV-2. Recent evidence from Shenzhen suggests that children may be infected and shed detectable virus at about the same rate as adults — so now the only question is whether they transmit as readily. It seems likely the answer is yes, but no data as of this writing to my knowledge.

In other words:  “We don’t really know, but I’m not optimistic.”

I’m kind of hoping summer brings some relief from this thing, at least enough to let life return to some semblance of normalcy.  Opening restaurants and such would be good start; I’d also like if if our gun club’s trap stands opened back up again.

But while this isn’t my particular field of biology, I do know that we’re dealing with a new pathogen in a population that’s largely lacking any immunity.  This may drag on for a while; a vaccine would be great but that’s months off.  There are hopeful developments on the treatment front, but that doesn’t prevent transmission.

What the experts cited above don’t say is what is obvious to many of us:  We’ll have to wait and see.

Animal’s Daily Horse Squeeze News

The outbreak of the Kung Flu has led to another outbreak – this one is an outbreak of bullshit.  Excerpt:

The FTC has offered advice for consumers to help them avoid coronavirus scammers. On March 19 they published Part 2, and the FTC and FDA have sent out warning letters to these companies:

  • Vital Silver
  • Aromatherapy Ltd.
  • N-ergetics
  • GuruNanda, LLC
  • Vivify Holistic Clinic
  • Herbal Amy LLC
  • The Jim Bakker Show

They solicit complaints from customers, and this page has an Alert button with a link to facilitate complaints relating to Covid-19.

Stephen Barrett’s Consumer Health Digest #20-10 lists lawsuits filed against Jim Bakker, Alex Jones, and others for marketing fraudulent products claimed to prevent or cure the disease. It also lists commentaries about Covid-19 misinformation and quackery. That list features my article on how alternative medicine has exploited coronavirus fears.  Another commentary from the Science-Based Medicine blog is Jann Bellamy’s article on chiropractors who falsely claim they can protect patients from the virus.

I was proud to see that my article headed the list, appearing on February 4, a month before the rest. In it, I addressed:

And I mentioned that there were many more, but I couldn’t hope to provide a comprehensive list of them all. I also mentioned social media’s efforts to combat coronavirus misinformation.

I have to say I wasn’t surprised to see that asshole Jim Bakker’s name surface in this.  Fraud seems to be written into his DNA.

Were I a believer in Hell, I would say that there is a special place in it for anyone who defrauds the gullible in times like these.  I’ve long been of the opinion that there is a point at which fools and their money deserve to be parted; but in this case, where people are facing a possibly life-threatening disease, this is clearly beyond the pale.

For the love of Pete, True Believers, should you feel ill, go to a doctor.  Pay no heed to these fraudulent assholes.

As the author of the linked article states in her closing line:

I can’t help but wonder if the widespread toilet paper shortages are a response to the proliferation of bullshit.

Ain’t that the ever-loving truth.

Animal’s Daily Fricking Fracking News

Fracking is an unalloyed good thing, so it’s not surprising both of the daffy old men running for President on the Democrat ticket want to do away with it.  Excerpt:

Fracking is seen as a critical issue to many Democratic voters in the presidential campaign. Bernie Sanders opposes any fracking. Joe Biden, on the other hand, said he would not support a nationwide ban on fracking, but would ban gas drilling on federal lands. 

Actually, most fracking is done on private and state lands, not federal lands, and thus would be difficult to stop. Today, thanks to such drilling in shale deposits spanning from Pennsylvania, to Ohio and Texas, natural gas dominates electricity production in the U.S. What’s more, the rise of gas in energy production is the reason why the U.S. is reducing carbon emissions faster than any other country.

So, why do so many want to ban the use of fracking? The short answer is that fracking opponents believe that electric power should only be produced without carbon or other emissions. We can discuss some ways to minimize such emissions.

Let’s start with coal, which for many years produced about 50 percent of the electrical power for America. But with the start of fracking about 20 years ago, the use of coal has steadily moved down to about 25 percent of America’s electricity use.

Huge amounts of carbon emissions are reduced in the U.S. simply by switching from coal to gas plants. Since 2010, hundreds of coal plants have closed, and others are expected to be retired in upcoming years.

Don’t read the comments, by the way.  The commenters on The Hill frequently seem to be competing to be the first to reach Tard Factor Eight.  It’s maddening and serves no good purpose.

It’s utterly baffling why Groper Joe and the daffy old Bolshevik would be taking this stance against fracking.  That places them firmly against cheap energy, warm homes in winter and cool homes in summer, jobs, lowering carbon emissions, and economic growth.

Why not just run against hot dogs and apple pie while you’re at it?

But, by all means, the Trump campaign should be encouraging this.  Running against the very industry responsible for tens of thousands of jobs in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan should be a sure-fire way to carry those states this November, right?

Right?

Now that I think on it, The Hill’s comment population isn’t the only group attempting Tard Factor Eight.  The Democrat Party seems to be reaching for the same goal.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to The Other McCain and Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five links!

Meanwhile, the pants-shitting over COVID-19 continues, all out of proportion; The New Criterion‘s Heather Mac Donald tells us why.  Excerpt:

The number of cases in most afflicted countries is paltry. As of today, 127 countries had reported some cases, but forty-eight of those countries had fewer than ten cases, according to Worldometer. At this point, more people have recovered from the virus than are still sick. But the damage to people’s livelihoods through the resulting economic contraction is real and widespread. Its health consequences will be more severe than those of the coronavirus, as Steve Malanga shows in City Journal. The people who can least afford to lose jobs will be the hardest hit by the assault on tourism. Small entrepreneurs, whether in manufacturing or the service sector, will struggle to stay afloat. Such unjustified, unpredicted economic havoc undermines government legitimacy.

President Trump has been criticized for not being apocalyptic enough in his press conferences. In fact, he should be even more skeptical of the panic than he has been. He should relentlessly put the coronavirus risk into context with opioid deaths, homicide deaths—about sixteen thousand a year in the United States—flu deaths, and traffic deaths. One might have thought New York governor Andrew Cuomo a voice of reason when, a few days ago, he tried to tamp down the hysteria in a press conference, saying: “This is not Ebola, this is not sars, this is not some science fiction movie come to life. The hysteria here is way out of line with the actuality and the facts.” And yet since then he called a state of emergency in New York, and he and Mayor Bill de Blasio have all but shut down the New York City economy. They, like most all U.S. politicians nowadays, have shown an overwhelming impulse to be irrationally risk-averse.

Rather than indiscriminately shutting down public events and travel, we should target prevention where it is most needed: in nursing homes and hospitals.

And now we see why toilet paper and bottle water have been flying off the shelves.

Critical Shortages.

There really has been very little discussion of the actual, comparative scope of the coronavirus issue.  For one thing, the very use of the term “coronavirus” seems new and scary to people not familiar with viruses; some 10-15% of the upper RI issues we call “the common cold” are caused by coronaviruses.  It is, after all, a type of virus, not a specific virus; the COVID-19 is just one member of that family.

The primary message from all levels of government should simply be “observe the same precautions you observe every cold and flu season.  This, too, shall pass.”

But no.  It’s all to panic time.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Another week east of the Mississippi, which isn’t my preferred area of operations; but needs must when you have a mortgage to pay.  We were thinking of going to a massive gun show down towards Philadelphia this Saturday, but at the moment spending a day wandering a crowded venue with 3-4,000 random strangers just doesn’t seem like the greatest idea.  At least we can lose ourselves drinking from that fire hose of information that is The Intarwebz.  And so:

On To the Links!

Colorado’s own John Caldera:  The initiative process in Colorado could be a dual-edged sword.

Brain-eating songbirds.  Yes, really.

What happened to Lieawatha Warren?  Well, she was a terrible candidate:  Shrill, hectoring, and pushing horrible policies.

The more I read about Dan Crenshaw, the more I like him.

Welcome to Armageddon.  No, it has nothing to do with the Coronavirus.

This is why idiots think that billionaires can pay for everything.

I’m not saying it’s aliens…

What a stupid idea.

This Week’s Idiots:

MSNBC host Brian Williams and New York Times Editorial Board Member Mara Gay are both idiots.

Chuck Schumer is an arrogant prick, and an idiot.

Rachel Maddow is an idiot.

Jim Bakker:  Still an idiot after all these years.

Paul Krugman is an unprincipled hack, and an idiot.

The New York Times editorial board is populated by idiots.

And so…

We’re still adjusting to the dark mornings and increased light in the evenings.  I’m not a fan of the first part, although I rather like the last.  I like it well enough, in fact, to think it a good idea year-round; which begs the question, why the hell are we still doing the Daylight Savings bullshit?  Pick a time and stick with it, already!

But at least it’s a sign that summer is coming.

I love Japan.

And on that sunny note, we return you to your Wednesday, already in progress.

Animal’s Daily COVID-19 News

Be sure to check out the latest in my Allamakee County Chronicles over at Glibertarians!

The markets have been messing themselves over the coronavirus.  Here’s an interesting take on the implications.  Excerpt:

My first session was with Michael Milken, the noted financier and philanthropist. Milken was cautious for the short term, but generally optimistic. Computer power for gene sequencing and AI models to predict infection spread, he said, are vastly more capable than during the SARS scare of 2002-2003 and the H1N1 epidemic of 2009-2010, when 700 million to 1.4 billion people became infected worldwide and upwards of 500,000 died. Technology can identify and solve problems much faster today.

Milken cited the U.S. polio epidemic of 1952 and the HIV/AIDS panic of the late 1980s as times when fear gripped the population. “People were afraid to be in the same room with someone infected with HIV.”

Fear, of course, is hard to break. The polio fear persisted a few years after the Salk vaccine. Milken said it was popular figures like Elvis Presley, photographed during his Army vaccine, that broke the spell. What lifted the clouds for AIDS were new drug cocktails that eliminated the death sentence, along with thriving patients such as basketball star Magic Johnson.

Capitalism, reasonably regulated, Milken reminded us, has remarkable recuperative powers. The COVID-19 crisis has created the lowest mortgage rates in U.S. history. Oil and gas are priced almost at the lows of early 2009 [update: and now significantly lower.]  “The cost of living is going down. Purchasing power is going up.” Milken said, which will lead to a faster recovery of any recession caused by COVID-19.

There’s an old saying:  “Today’s problems are solved with tomorrow’s technology.”  While it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future, it’s likely that the coronavirus outbreak will be over sooner and with less loss of life than earlier, similar outbreaks.  Why?

Because of technology.  Technology developed in free-market conditions, technology that made a profit for its developers and oh, by the way, improved quality of life for millions into the process.

Yesterday the daffy old Bolshevik from Vermont was trumpeting that, should he be President, any coronavirus vaccine would be “free.”  Let’s set aside the ridiculous notion that anything can be “free” – TANSTAAFL applies – and imagine how swiftly private companies would develop a revolutionary new vaccine with only the promise that a socialist government would demand that said vaccine be handed over at cost to Imperial practitioners, to be administered with no direct cost save the massive tax increases The Bern has promised.

Left to themselves, markets usually get things right on their own – that includes meeting needs through innovation.  A vaccine for the COVID-19 would be no exception.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Sunday saw us flying on the Friendly Skies back to our temporary lodgings in New Jersey, where we still will maintain this second household until the end of May.  And yes, it still sucks here, despite some really great Italian restaurants in the area.  But, I still have a mortgage to pay, so we soldier on.

With that said, it’s…

On To the Links!

The “gun show loophole” is bullshit.  Tell us something we didn’t already know.

The U.S. has signed a preliminary peace deal with the Taliban.  I’m wondering how well this will work, but upside, we get a lot of our folks out of a third world shithole that we’ll never, ever be able to reform.  And, to be fair, you don’t make peace deals with your friends, you make them with your enemies.

Turns out that on Castro, as on so many other topics, the daffy old Bolshevik from Vermont is full of shit.  Health care, too.

On the Coronavirus:  Don’t panic.  Don’t buy into wacko conspiracy theories.  Seriously, folks, exercise a little common sense and everything will be fine.  Wash your hands.  Avoid traveling to Wuhan.  That sort of thing.

Protein found in a meteorite!  This is a first.  What does it mean?  Who knows?  That’s part of what makes it interesting.

No.  It’s just lousy beer.  Seriously, this is what we call “sex in a canoe.”

Her Imperial Majesty Hillary I, Dowager Empress of Chappaqua, is getting deposed on her email shenanigans.

This Week’s Idiots:

Pete Davidson is an idiot.

Joe Biden is an idiot, and possibly senile.

Lieawatha Warren is an idiot.

And now…

I’m drawing a bit of a blank on witty commentary this morning, so here’s a bit of totty from the archives instead:

And on that sunny note, we return you to your Wednesday, already in progress.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Thanks as always to The Other McCain, Bacon Time and Pirate’s Cove for the Rule Five links!

I’ve talked about exoplanets here before.  It’s a topic I find fascinating for a variety of reasons, and now there’s some news on a large exoplanet about 124 light-years away that may have conditions conducive to life.  Excerpt:

The exoplanet K2-18b, 124 light-years away, is 2.6 times the radius and 8.6 times the mass of Earth, and orbits its star within the habitable zone, where temperatures could allow liquid water to exist. The planet was the subject of significant media coverage in the autumn of 2019, as two different teams reported detection of water vapour in its hydrogen-rich atmosphere. However, the extent of the atmosphere and the conditions of the interior underneath remained unknown.

“Water vapour has been detected in the atmospheres of a number of exoplanets but, even if the planet is in the habitable zone, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are habitable conditions on the surface,” said Dr Nikku Madhusudhan from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, who led the new research. “To establish the prospects for habitability, it is important to obtain a unified understanding of the interior and atmospheric conditions on the planet – in particular, whether liquid water can exist beneath the atmosphere.”

It’s certainly not going to happen in my lifetime – probably not in my grandchildren’s lifetimes – but damn, I’d love to go see for myself.

I expect, though, that I may well live to see life discovered somewhere other than Earth.  It may be microbial life in the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan, or some kind of complex life in the subsurface oceans of Europa.  There is still some possibility of remnants of microbial life on Mars.  Or, we may detect the spectral lines of chlorophyll or other life-specific chemistry in the light passing through an exoplanet’s atmosphere.

Probably no Marian princesses, though.

And there’s always the possibility that we may detect some alien radio signal or other sign of an alien intelligence, although that’s the longest of long shots.

Still.  NASA estimates that there are between 100 and 400 million stars in our galaxy alone.  While a significant number of those are likely places in areas, like the center of the galaxy, where star-density and radiation make life as we know it impossible, millions more are not – and some of those are certainly “Goldilocks” planets like Earth, where the conditions for life as we know it are good.

And our discovery of such life, whether it be microbes or space-faring aliens, will change the way we think about life and the universe.

We certainly do live in interesting times.

Animal’s Daily Plastics News

Plastics have their uses.

Thanks as always to The Other McCain for the Rule Five linkery!

It seems plastics aren’t nearly as bad for the environment as some folks would have you believe; and it turns out that the United States is far from being a major offender as well.  Excerpt:

After painstakingly analyzing debris in the north central Pacific Ocean, where converging currents create the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a team of scientists from four continents reported in 2018 that more than half the plastic came from fishing boats—mostly discarded nets and other gear. These discards are also the greatest threat to marine animals, who die not from plastic bags but from getting entangled in the nets. Another study, published last year by Canadian and South African researchers, traced the origins of plastic bottles that had washed up on the shore of the aptly named Inaccessible Island, an uninhabited landmass in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean. More than 80 percent of the bottles came from China and must have been tossed off boats from Asia traversing the Atlantic.

Some plastic discarded on land does end up in the ocean, but very little of it comes from consumers in the United States or Europe. Most of the labels on the plastic packaging analyzed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch came from Asia, the greatest source of what researchers call “mismanaged waste.” Of the plastic carried into oceans by rivers, a 2017 study in Nature Communications estimated, 86 percent comes from Asia and virtually all the rest from Africa and South America. Developing countries don’t yet have good systems for collecting and processing waste, so some of it is simply dumped into or near rivers, and these countries’ primitive processing facilities let plastic leak into waterways.

It’s true that some plastic in America is littered on beaches and streets, and some of it winds up in sewer drains. But researchers have found that laws restricting plastic bags (which account for less than 2 percent of litter) and food containers do not reduce litter (a majority of which consists of cigarette butts and paper products). The resources wasted on these anti-plastic campaigns would be better spent on more programs to discourage littering and to pick up everything that’s discarded—a direct approach that has proved effective.

Note the sources – over 80% of ocean-borne plastic waste is from Asia (particularly China) and Africa.

The current trend of some of our (mostly Democrat-run) cities to engage in such petty virtue-signalling as banning plastic bags and straws us just plain silly, as the research done here proves; not that this will stop authoritarian nanny-state pols from pushing such policies, nor will it stop the ill-informed, emotionally-driven voters from agitating for such actions.

The core of this, it seems to me, has nothing to do with facts, or evidence, or thoughtful application of policy.  It has a lot to do with emotionally-driven activism, with an American-Bad philosophy, and with the weird strain of Luddism that seems to be infecting some of the political Left these days.

Rule Five Radiation Bugs Friday

Some fungi are growing in what’s left of the Chernobyl nuclear plant that actually feed on radiation.  Godzilla was unavailable for comment.  Excerpt:

Since the 1986 meltdown, at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station, the numbers of ‘black fungi’, rich in melanin, have risen steeply. Casadevall speculated that the fungi could be feeding on the radiation that contaminates the ruin of the nuclear reactor.

Dadachova, Casadevall and their colleagues tested how three different species of fungus respond to gamma radiation from rhenium-188 and tungsten-188. They found that all three, Cladosporium sphaerospermum, Cryptococcus neoformans and Wangiella dermatitidis, grow faster in the radiation’s presence. The results are published in PLoS One.1

Some fungi can decompose radioactive material such as the hot graphite in the remains of the Chernobyl reactor. Previous studies have shown that most fungi found in contaminated regions grow towards various different radiation sources, as if trying to reach these compounds2.

These fungi also tend to produce the pigment melanin, which is thought to protect fungi from a range of environmental stresses. “Under stress of exposure to ionizing radiation, microfungal communities in soil develop a higher proportion of melanin-containing fungal species,” says John Dighton, a microbiologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Dadachova’s team found that exposure to radiation caused the fungal melanin molecule to change shape so that it was four times better at carrying out a common metabolic chemical reaction. Fungal strains without melanin generally did not grow faster in response to radiation.

Could the melanin in human skin cells likewise turn radiation into food? Casadevall speculates that it might, but the amount of energy provided would probably be very small — and certainly not enough for a busy astronaut. “Currently there is no evidence for this,” says Casadevall, “however the fact that it occurs in fungi raises the possibility that the same may occur in animals and plants.”

What’s interesting about this is the possibility of engineering radiation-absorbing organisms for a variety of purposes:

This raises the prospect that astronauts could grow these fungi on long flights into radiation-rich outer space, suggests Dadachova’s colleague Arturo Casadevall. The fungi aren’t particularly appetizing, however — they resemble the mould on a dirty shower curtain.

Appetizing is an appetizing does.  But while my understanding of how these fungi metabolize radiation is limited, the thought occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, a coating of such fungi somewhere in the outer walls of a ship or space station may serve as a radiation shield for the much-less-resistant human critters inside?

This really isn’t a new idea.  Bacteria have long played a role in sewage treatment.  There are bacteria that eat plastics, bacteria that help clean up oil spills, and that’s just a start.  These microbes evolved on their own, in response to environmental opportunities; imagine what a little selective breeding of these microbes could accomplish.

Bacteria are key in many areas of pharmaceutical production.  In fact, a majority of bacterial output in industry is in the form of human proteins used in medicine; insulin and a common Hepatitis B vaccine, for example.

Various bacteria, some natural, some artificially bred, play key roles in agriculture, making various crops more hardy in adverse weather or resistant to various diseases and blights.

Bacteria play a key role in brewing beer, as well.  And I ask you, where would we be without beer?

A good part of my business involves dealing with biologics, biotechnology and bio-pharmaceutical companies and products.  It’s a very interesting field right now; the possibilities are legion.

It’s an interesting time full of interesting possibilities in this game.