War against pandemic changes course

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is equally contagious whether it’s contracted by a vaccinated or unvaccinated person…This means that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people are equally capable of transmitting the virus to other people.

Health officials need to acknowledge that “the war has changed,” one CDC slide said. “Given higher transmissibility … universal masking is essential to reduce transmission of the Delta variant…”

…vaccinated people are eight times less likely than unvaccinated people to contract COVID-19. Vaccinated people are also 25 times less likely to be hospitalized or to die from the coronavirus…Symptomatic breakthrough infections seem to be happening among 0.0098 percent of all fully vaccinated people, according to an ABC News study of cases reported by the CDC last week.

Folks have to understand that guidance from health officials has to change when more up-to-date testing against this new variant shows different results from the earlier virus. Of course, the response has to change, too. Here in New Mexico, we’re in the top ten of states with an adequate vaccination rate. Though some vaccinated folks – including my wife and I – had stopped wearing masks, we WILL BE WEARING MASKS this morning when we go to town for our weekly grocery shopping.

Given everything included in the phrase “Santa Fe Style” – I expect virtually everyone we see shopping at Trader Joe’s will be masked.

At most, 7% of the human genome is unique to our species


Will Oliver/PA Images

No more than 7% of the human genome is unique to Homo sapiens, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

We share the remaining chunks of our genetic material with other human ancestors, or hominins, including our Neanderthal cousins and the Denisovans first discovered in east Asia.

“The evolutionary family tree shows there are regions of our genome that make us uniquely human,” Richard Green, director of the paleogenomics lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz and co-author of the new study, told Insider. “Now we have a catalog of those, and it’s a surprisingly small fraction of the genome…”

“More or less everywhere we look, admixture is not the exception at all, but rather the rule,” Green said.

Of course I find the research fascinating. Not that the admixture of Neanderthal and Denisovan genes [and others] diminishes or alters the Homo Sapiens characteristics. Still, I reflect upon what colors my emotions and judgement from my Neanderthal ancestors. I have 3% directly identifiable genetic material from that stream of evolution.

NASA joins the hunt for aliens

In the last decade, we have devised amazing instruments to glare unflinchingly at the stars and discovered that other planets are common around them. These exoplanet discoveries have thrown gasoline on the fire of the astrobiology field, where scientists seek to explore whether life might exist beyond Earth. But they have also fueled SETI, or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. If life does evolve on other worlds, then we may very well find more than just biosignatures like oxygen.

We might find technosignatures, too. These are things like radio signals, or even megastructures; that is, artificial objects on a gigantic scale such as hypothesized star-sized supercomputers. Now, Supercluster reported in an article this week, NASA has quietly begun to fund the search for such alien megastructures for the first time in the agency’s history…

The best news [to me] is that we’re moving well beyond the typical American cultural response to a new critical investigation of unusual phenomena. Breaking out of the historic mold of latching onto singular means of investigation – in expectation of an equally singular answer to the question, “What’s out there?”

RTFA for early days projections, the first rounds of investigative style.

Watch out for nomadic extra-terrestrials

Hawking’s earliest astrophysics work posited the existence of singularities, mathematically conforming black holes with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity…An atheist, anti-war activist, BDS supporter and anti-capitalist, the overlap between Hawking’s humanist politics and scientific interests found expression in his repeated public statements on the possibility of contact with extraterrestrial life.

Hawking took a conflicted position on alien life, at once promoting the search for extraterrestrial life and warning about the potential dangers of first contact with an alien species. His position on extraterrestrial life advocates two approaches: collecting intel and keeping as quiet as possible.

In 2010, Hawking worried what that answer would bring, describing the dangers of first contact with aliens in a Discovery Channel documentary. “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” Hawking says. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

It could be worse than perpetual Trumpism.