Category: Science

Anti-vaccine mom no more — all seven of her kids get whooping cough


The Hills family – in healthier days

Writing on The ScientificParent blog, a chagrined Canadian mom announced that she is leaving the anti-vaxx movement after all of her seven children — four of them completely unvaccinated — have come down with whooping cough.

Writing from quarantine, and surrounded by sick kids, Tara Hills wrote she is “emotionally, a bit raw. Mentally a bit taxed. Physically I’m fine,” before admitting that not only are her own kids sick, but they may have exposed her five-month-old niece who is too young to be fully vaccinated.

What began with a cold brought into her home by her brother-in-law, turned into coughing by her kids leading to full-blown whooping cough in all seven children…

“We had vaccinated our first three children on an alternative schedule and our youngest four weren’t vaccinated at all. We stopped because we were scared and didn’t know who to trust,” she explained. ” Was the medical community just paid off puppets of a Big Pharma-Government-Media conspiracy? Were these vaccines even necessary in this day and age? Were we unwittingly doing greater harm than help to our beloved children? So much smoke must mean a fire so we defaulted to the ‘do nothing and hope nothing bad happens’ position.”

Hills explained that she had a hard time overcoming her biases and mistrust of “Big Pharma,” asking herself, “Could all the in-house, independent, peer-reviewed clinical trials, research papers and studies across the globe ALL be flawed, corrupt and untrustworthy?”

Now Hills says that years spent “frozen” out of fear of vaccinating her kids has the whole family frozen: confined to their home by a quarantine.

She said she hopes her mea culpa will make other families who have held back from getting their children vaccinated rethink what they are doing.

I appreciate her fear and cynicism. I can match cynicism with most anyone; but, I also have a lifetime of experience reading science from academia, research – public, private and corporate. The peer review procedures we have are the best chance we have so far for verification and validation at present. Honest researchers include funding sources for the reader to judge.

The biggest mistake skeptics make about vaccination, GMO, climate change, any science-based products/systems which may be profitable/or not – is relying on a sampling of non-science sources. That’s laziness in my mind. I spent two years of casual spare time at the millennium reading and searching before I settled on agreement with the dangers human beings had brought to the climate of this planet. I didn’t have to wait for broad political statements from bodies like the IPCC because I combed through many reports from folks doing the research. Then made up my mind based on the science.

Questions about vaccines are easier for me to decide because – being a cranky old geek – I lived through the era before most modern vaccines were available. As I’ve mentioned other times, I stood with my classmates in elementary school every spring while we counted up who didn’t make it through the winter. Whooping cough, mumps, scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles, influenza – all took their toll. And then we had summer and polio to look forward to.

The Large Hadron Collider is switching back on – What do scientists hope to learn?

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The Large Hadron Collider — the particle accelerator used to discover the Higgs boson in 2012 — is being fired back up after a two-year break.

The gigantic collider (which includes a 17-mile-long underground tunnel that runs between France and Switzerland) was shut down in February 2013 so engineers could make upgrades. Now, physicists are starting it back up for a new series of experiments intended to push the laws of physics to their limits…

In essence, these experiment involve shooting beams of particles around the ring, using enormous magnets to speed them up to 99.9999 percent of the speed of light (causing them to whip around the ring about 11,000 times per second), then crashing them together. Sophisticated sensors capture all sorts of data on the particles that result from these collisions.

The huge amount of energy present in these collisions leads the particles to break apart and recombine in some pretty exotic ways. And these conditions can reveal flaws in the standard model of physics — currently our best formula for predicting the behavior of all matter.

Physicists want to do this because, as accurate as the standard model seems to be, it’s still incomplete…

The LHC’s biggest finding so far was the July 2012 discovery of an elementary particle called the Higgs boson.

Since the 1960s, the Higgs boson was thought to exist as a part of the Higgs field: an invisible field that permeates all space and exerts a drag on every particle. This field, physicists theorized, is why we perceive particles to have mass…

On paper, the Higgs field and boson both made a lot of sense — all the equations of the standard model pointed toward their existence. But we had no direct physical evidence of them…

After several years of upgrading the LHC’s magnets (which speed up and control the flow of particles) and data sensors, it’ll begin…a new series of experiments that will involve crashing particles together with nearly twice as much energy as before.

These more powerful collisions will allow scientists to keep discovering new (and perhaps larger) particles, and also look more closely at the Higgs boson and observe how it behaves under different conditions…

Once upon a time, it looked like a truly gigantic accelerator would actually be built in the US. In 1989, Congress agreed to spend $6 billion to build the Superconducting Super Collider: a 54-mile-long underground ring in Waxahachie, Texas, that would have produced collisions with five times as much energy as the LHC’s. But in 1993, with the costs rising to a projected $11 billion, Congress killed the project — after $2 billion had already been spent on drilling nearly 15 miles of tunnel.

Just in case you thought stupid was a new definition of Congressional priorities.

Invading other countries because liars in the White House say we must; building new fleets of fighter jets and ships to protect landing craft for future invasions because liars in the military-industrial complex say we must; building bridges to nowhere instead of repairing and improving our nation’s infrastructure because powerful members of Congress say we must – are the kinds of commitments to increasing the national debt that our politIcians adore, the average American loves. The size of the “Boom” is sufficiently impressive to draw everyone’s attention away from the results of science and studies headquartered outside our borders.

And TV news-as-entertainment gets to fill the space where conversation used to get in the way with beaucoup footage of all the people around the world who love Americans more than ever.

Who needs science, anyway?

Addendum: Ursarodinia sent me this link this morning – before the LHC post; but, I didn’t get round to checking my email until late this afternoon.

Art meets the science of the Biggs Boson

Tiny songbirds tracked crossing 1,700 miles of open ocean

blackpoll warbler by erickson
Click to enlargeLaura Erickson

A tiny songbird that summers in the forests of northern North America has been tracked on a 1,700-mile, over-the-ocean journey from the northeastern United States and eastern Canada to the Caribbean as part of their winter migration to South America…

Scientists had long suspected that the blackpoll warbler had made its journey to the Caribbean over the ocean, but the study that began in the summer of 2013 when scientists attached tracking devices to the birds was the first time that the flight has been proven, according to results published Wednesday in the United Kingdom in the journal Biology Letters.

“It is such a spectacular, astounding feat that this half-an-ounce bird can make what is obviously a perilous, highly risky journey over the open ocean,” said Chris Rimmer of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies…

The warblers, known to bulk up by eating insects near their coastal departure points before heading south, are common in parts of North America, but their numbers have been declining. “Now maybe that will help us focus attention on what could be driving these declines,” Rimmer said…

A number of bird species fly long distances over water, but the warbler is different because it’s a forest dweller. Most other birds that winter in South America fly through Mexico and Central America.

In the summer of 2013, scientists tagged 19 blackpolls on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield and 18 in two locations in Nova Scotia. Of those, three were recaptured in Vermont with the tracking device attached and two in Nova Scotia.

Four warblers, including two tagged in Vermont, departed between Sept. 25 and Oct. 21 and flew directly to the islands of Hispaniola or Puerto Rico in flights ranging from 49 to 73 hours. A fifth bird departed Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and flew nearly 1,000 miles before landing in the Turks and Caicos before continuing on to South America.

On their return journeys north, the birds flew along the coast.

Though not mentioned in the article, I presume the coastal return leg was governed by food availability. Though it may have been resistance from prevailing winds.

Regardless – what an impressive feat considered quite normal for these wee creatures.

Graphene light bulb set to be 1st commercial consumer application

In two claimed firsts, researchers at the University of Manchester have produced both the first commercial application of graphene and the world’s first graphene light-bulb. It is expected that this new device will have lower energy emissions, cheaper manufacturing costs, and a longer running life than even LED lights. And this isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky prototype, either. The team who developed it believes that the graphene light-bulb will be available for retail sale within months.

To that end, the University of Manchester has partnered with the UK company Graphene Lighting PLC to produce the new bulb and share in the profits of its sales. This will also make certain that the University is directly advantaged by commercial products being developed out of their National Graphene Institute (NGI)…

The University of Manchester told us that the light bulb comprises a traditional LED coated in graphene which transfers heat away from the LED, prolonging life and minimizing energy usage.

Known as “the home of graphene,” the University of Manchester is where this unique form of carbon was first isolated in 2004. This feat earned Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov the Nobel prize for Physics in 2010. Today, with more than 200 researchers in a myriad 2D material projects, the University is at the forefront of graphene know-how.

The sort of consumer advancement that birdbrains like Michelle Bachmann and other Tea Party types sought to halt. They oppose funding of research in US universities of energy-saving means and practices. Efforts to retire incandescent light bulbs are considered a socialist plot.

Mail me a penny postcard when the Koch Bros. and their flunkies announce they’ll pay my electricity bill.

This past winter set a global heat record

This map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows vast areas around the world where temperatures from December through February were above average this winter. Only the Northeast U.S. was in a big chill…

Last week, the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service reported that La Plata County’s average temperature for the meteorological winter – from December through February – was 5 degrees above average…

But Southwest Colorado was just part of a bigger global trend.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, with data from NASA, announced this week that this winter and the first two months of 2015 were the hottest on record globally, with the chilly Northeast U.S. sticking out like a cold thumb in a toastier world.

At nearly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, last month was the second-warmest February on record globally, slightly behind 1998.

But the combined January and February temperature beat the old record for the first two months set in 2002.

December through February broke the meteorological winter record set in 2007.

NOAA records go back 135 years to 1880. But, that’s OK. You probably can find a guy who trained as a weatherman for some local radio station, or a conservative investor who made money in the “weather business” – to dispute the sum of global scientific record-keeping and analysis.

And with slightly over 6% of the land area of planet Earth, you know the opinion of Americans about the weather is the only one that counts.

Dark matter is darker than we thought


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This panel of images represents a study of 72 colliding galaxy clusters conducted by a team of astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope. The research sets new limits on how dark matter – the mysterious substance that makes up most of the matter in the Universe – interacts with itself…

RTFA – more research in progress. I wonder if we’ll sort out dark matter in what remains of my lifetime?

GMO may be controversial; but, not to scientists

gmo apple
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Later this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture may approve the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, the first genetically modified apples to hit the market. Although it will probably be another two years before the non-browning fruits appears in stores, at least one producer is already scrambling to label its apples GMO-free.

The looming apple campaign is just the latest salvo in the ongoing war over genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—one that’s grown increasingly contentious. Over the past decade, the controversy surrounding GMOs has sparked worldwide riots and the vandalism of crops in Oregon, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Philippines. In May, the governor of Vermont signed a law that will likely make it the first U.S. state to require labels for genetically engineered ingredients; more than 50 nations already mandate them. Vermont State Senator David Zuckerman told Democracy Now!, “As consumers, we are guinea pigs, because we really don’t understand the ramifications.”

And the apples have been OK’d. The article is several months old – and worth revisiting.

But the truth is, GMOs have been studied intensively, and they look a lot more prosaic than the hype contends. To make Arctic apples, biologists took genes from Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, modified them to suppress the enzyme that causes browning, and reinserted them in the leaf tissue. It’s a lot more accurate than traditional methods, which involve breeders hand-pollinating blossoms in hopes of producing fruit with the desired trait…

So what, exactly, do consumers have to fear? To find out, Popular Science chose 10 of the most common claims about GMOs and interviewed nearly a dozen scientists. Their collective answer: not much at all.

No need to review all 10 points here. RTFA. POPSCI ain’t exactly a hotbed of politics. Just folks who work for a magazine that’s been writing about science for over 140 years.

In the U.S., farmers have been planting increasing amounts GMO crops since the seeds became commercially available in 1996. Corn, cotton, and soy—which together occupy about 40 percent of U.S. cropland—are the three crops with the highest GMO fraction by area, each more than 90 percent in 2013.

One of our late contributors discovered a bakery in his home state of Georgia – like a lot of really great bakeries – was using a genetically-designed sourdough culture. Chatting with the owners who happened to be friends of his is how he learned about it. And they swore him to a secret he took to the grave – because they know damned well that folks who love the wonderful flavor of their sourdough bread would crap their non-GMO cotton drawers if they knew. And they’d probably be out of business at least in their fashionable Atlanta suburb even though a side-by-side blind test with any other great sourdough would be impossible to tell apart. Except for the consistent results they get from their baking.

Nope. I’ll stick with science, I know enough about peer-reviewed testing to be 99.999% confident – even if “common wisdom” says all studies are funded and owned by Monsanto. Differentiate between the creeps using scientific studies to bad ends – and the science itself. Learn how many rules you have to abide just to get your article published – which is why the most recent bought-and-paid-for creep who violated those standards had to lie.

And if you’re truly concerned – read the science, not opinions from other folks who aren’t reading the science either. Draw your own conclusions. Personally, I find well-written science fun to read. And I love learning about science – whether it be astrophysics or asafoetida. I also realize there are only so many hours in the day; so we rely on folks our experience says are usually right. That can be a problem when those folks try to find facts to back up their beliefs instead of the other way round.

When I became involved in climate science discussions at the millenium, I spent two years reading and studying before I became convinced one way or the other. The delight was discovering regular online publication of a broad range of research from the Max Planck Institute in Germany – in several languages including English. A great find. I hope you can be as fortunate.

Chewing on dietary politics

Two of Cornell’s leading nutrition experts appeared in Washington, D.C., March 18 to discuss an extensive proposed rewrite of the federal government’s official Dietary Guidelines for Americans

They appeared in the nation’s capital as part of Inside Cornell, a series of public policy roundtables. The pair spoke before an audience consisting largely of journalists who closely follow these issues. National Public Radio correspondent Allison Aubrey moderated the panel.

Tom Brenna said the most fundamental change proposed for the new dietary guidelines, which are updated every five years, “is a focus on overall healthy eating patterns, rather than individual foods…”

Brenna also lauded what he called an emerging emphasis on “nutrition above the neck,” a reference to the role diet plays in neurocognitive health. His Cornell lab, for example, conducts extensive research on nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, which are proving to be effective in treating depression.

David Just focuses on how consumers make their decisions about what foods to purchase and eat.

He said the government’s new nutritional guidance “will probably generate no response at all at the consumer level, at least initially. The primary effect will come from the millions of meals directly influenced by the government, including public school lunches, hospital food and military meals.”

Over time, however, as the new advice takes hold, it will start to be felt as “consumers make their shopping lists or decide which groceries to display prominently in their kitchens, as opposed to buried in cabinets.”

Just also stressed the positive role the food industry can play by adjusting how it markets and advertises its products. Touting the good taste and benefits of healthier foods on packaging, he noted, is far more effective than any government warning about the risks of a poor diet.

They also discussed the never-publicized lobbying over dietary guideline recommendations. The meat industry – of course – wants to water down recommendations that Americans eat less red meat, less processed meat. The last thing they want is linking an animal-based diet to environmental problems like greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.

Sugar giants don’t want nutrition labels to include added sugar. There’s a surprise!

Once Congress gets quickly past the parts about science, no doubt they will return to rules and regulations directly proportional to the influence of lobbyist/industry dollar$.

BTW, that 2nd link up top is a fine article on the details of new recommendations.

New strategy to protect a healthy gut from antibiotic-caused imbalance

Gut microbes promote human health by fighting off pathogens, but they also contribute to diseases such as diabetes and cancer. A study published March 19th by Cell Reports reveals a potential strategy for tipping the balance in favor of good bacteria by altering the composition of the microbial community.

A group of Portuguese and Spanish researchers found that a chemical signal called autoinducer-2 (AI-2), which bacteria use to communicate with each other, can promote the right balance of gut microbes in antibiotic-treated mice. The findings pave the way for therapeutic strategies that harness the chemical language of bacteria to foster a healthy community of gut microbes…

Antibiotic use and dietary factors can change the composition of gut microbes and strongly reduce bacterial diversity, posing a serious threat to human health by increasing host susceptibility to harmful pathogens such as Salmonella. In particular, shifts in the balance between Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes–the two predominant phyla in the mammalian gut–are associated with obesity, diabetes, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, and gastrointestinal cancer. The ability to drive this community from a disease state to a healthy state, by manipulating the native signals and interactions that occur between its members, offers great potential for therapeutic benefit…

“These receptors could be used as new drug targets to alter bacterial communication,” says the study’s co-first author Rita Almeida Oliveira of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência. “This strategy to control bacteria may be a promising alternative to avoid the increasingly serious problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics that are used today.”

Bravo. It would be great if research might latch onto a single class of communications which could aid maintaining a healthy balance of critters in your gut when it really is necessary to invoke the aid of antibiotics to fight an illness or disease.