Free Science beats Fake News anytime

❝ While scientific conspiracy theorists used to seem like a small subset of the population—a population that stayed hidden in secluded closets surrounded by tinfoil and private chatrooms — we have seen dramatic shifts in the past few years. From people who fearmonger about vaccines to people who fearmonger about GMOs to professors at Columbia University who knowingly and intentionally promote pseudoscience for personal gains — we have seen just how prevalent and deeply rooted scientific misinformation is.

❝ Luckily, although the internet is replete with sensationalism and outright lies, it is also home to free, reliable, and (perhaps most importantly) interesting science information. Access to education remains a global issue, but if you have an internet connection, there is a wealth of books, courses, databases, infographics, videos, and interactive learning modules that are aimed at bringing knowledge directly to your home. And believe it or not, a lot of it comes from science communicators and educators that uphold the highest levels of both accuracy and quality.

❝ In August of 2016, NASA announced that they were opening up their research library to the public. In the release, NASA stated that “all NASA-funded authors and co-authors (both civil servant and non-civil servant) will be required to deposit copies of their peer-reviewed scientific publications and associated data into NASA’s publication repository called NASA PubSpace.” The database has been alive and well since that time, and it is host to a plethora of peer reviewed research articles from experts. You can access these articles and read the findings without any third party commentary or analysis.

❝ ScienceMatters is a science publishing company that aims to change people’s perspectives on science (and scientific research) by providing a more democratized platform — one that all individuals can access. You can head to that site to find content that contains verified observations made by scientists. Forget the story. Just get the data. Other peer review platforms that also aim to bring science to the world include both eLife and Frontiers.

So, the excuses for using something rolled out into the interwebitubes to validate someone’s dream-state analysis and mock vanilla-syrup high – become less justifiable than ever. Want to impress me with the newest shiny conspiracy theory about why Americans and our imitation democracy elected the Fake President? You’ll need to come up with sources that stand the test of peer review publication.

Maybe containing a bit more than the “stupid” and “ignorant” we already know about. Yes, I realize that may be sufficient.

Is humanity getting better?

London, 1665. The capital smelled of death in its last large outbreak of the Plague, the worst since the Black Death of the 14th century. The diarist Samuel Pepys mourned, “Every day sadder and sadder news of its increase. In the City died this week 7,496; and of all of them, 6,102 of the Plague. But it is feared that the true number of the dead this week is near 10,000 — partly from the poor that cannot be taken notice of through the greatness of the number.”

As the deaths mounted and the streets filled with waste, Londoners noticed that dogs and cats were everywhere in the city. And so the order went out from the Lord Mayor.

Kill the dogs and cats.

The Chamberlain of the City paid the huntsmen, who slaughtered more than 4,000 animals. But the dogs and cats were chasing the rats that were feeding on the waste — and the rats were carrying the fleas that transmitted the Plague. Now spared from their predators, the rats spread the affliction even more fiercely. The medical advice from London’s College of Physicians — to press a hen hard on the swellings until the hen died — did not slow the disease. In the end, the Plague of 1665 is thought to have killed almost 20 percent of London’s population…A great fire then consumed a third of the city.

Many humans and animals died in this crisis of ignorance. Now that we understand the Plague bacterium, we know what procedures and medicines will keep the disease from becoming epidemic. Ignorance, we might say, no longer plagues us.

Today, pestilence threatens us not because of our ignorance but because of the success of our systems. Our transportation networks are now so fast and far-flung that they transmit diseases worldwide before cures can catch up. The next epidemics will play on our strengths, not our weaknesses — fighting them will mean canceling flights, not killing fleas. This Horseman of the Apocalypse has dismounted and now travels coach.

The introduction to an intelligent essay.

RTFA. Click the link.

Leif Wenar holds the chair of philosophy and law at King’s College London. He is the author of “Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World,” from which this essay was adapted.

Planning for this weekend’s snowstorm — or any other snowstorm?

The East Coast might face a massive snowstorm this weekend, one that meteorologists say could be of “historic” proportions.

There are lots of fun things to do during a snowstorm, like drink hot chocolate and build snowmen. But there is one specific thing that pretty much everyone should avoid during a big snowstorm — the thing you should keep in mind as you make preparations for this week.

Do not, if you can possibly avoid it, drive anywhere.

Alan Black and Thomas Mote at the University of Georgia compared deaths from winter-related travel with those from other weather events. Between 2002 and 2011, there were an average of 842 deaths from winter-related automobile accidents annually. That’s more than the average deaths from lightning strikes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and rip currents combined.

So, be certain you have backup groceries, batteries charged for mobile devices, alternatives on hand for staying warm if and when the power goes out.

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.

Murdoch – “screwed up MySpace in every way possible”

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, has tweeted about how his company “screwed up MySpace in every way possible”…

It is the first time Murdoch has tweeted about the social network and his experience of owning MySpace for six difficult years, since joining the microblogging platform. It was in the context of several technology-related tweets he has written about the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which has been going on all week.

Murdoch tweeted: “CES again. Big three, Apple,Google and Amazon, and maybe Facebook dominant now and growing. Plenty of others good, but not in same league.”

He then wrote: “CES coming to a close. Seems like more innovation than ever, some great, all disruptive. Traditional coys [companies] feeling digital tornado.”

Murdoch has spoken out before about how difficult owning MySpace was, after finally selling it off to advertising company Specific Media and Justin Timberlake last year, for approximately $35m – just six per cent of what News Corporation paid for the business. Murdoch’s business is understood to have retained a small undisclosed stake in the social network, but is not involved in the day to day running of it…

MySpace, which started as a site on which users could share their interest in pop and rock bands, has in the last four years been totally eclipsed by the explosive growth of competitor Facebook.

This was a good example of how to turn $580 million into a lot less virtually overnight,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, a technology research firm, at the time of the sale to Specific Media last year. “In many ways, it was a failed merger.”

Murdoch proved, once again, that corporate executives with their brain stuck in last century solutions and methods – will run modern Web exterprises as badly as the worst of their existing/declining ventures.

Murdoch proved incapable of innovation, unable to keep up with the crowded field of peers in the world of geek dynamism. And he wasn’t bright enough to hire someone who could.

Want to be the next geek/handyman for Stephen Hawking?

Think you could be the next Technical Assistant? Graduate Assistant to Stephen Hawking

The salary is expected to be in the region of £25K; the exact value will be confirmed in the near future.

Disclaimer: This is not an official job applications page, however similar it may look! The official applications process will be started when the post has been properly advertised, probably in mid-January. We will not be able to offer the post to anyone on the strength of this unofficial submission alone; we can only direct people to apply through the official channel. However, if you fit our requirements, we would like to hear from you.

The post is more accurately described by the title “Technical Assistant to Stephen Hawking.” It is not a PhD or Post-Doc position for academics looking to study physics, but a purely technical post to allow Prof. Hawking to function within the physics community and as a public speaker.

…The job…now includes:

Managing national and international travel for Prof. Hawking and his care team. Expect to spend around 3 months per year abroad!
Development and maintenance of Professor Hawking’s communication and speech systems
Procurement and maintenance of his wheelchairs and accessible van
Preparation of lecture graphics and public speaking
Dealing with the media and press
Answering inquiries from the public and maintaining the website
The post requires a wide range of skills, most importantly:
Ability to work under pressure
Maintenance of “black box” systems with no instruction manual or technical support
Computer literacy
Electronics knowledge
Ability to speak to a large audience
Ability to show others how to use complex systems

The role of ‘Graduate Assistant to Professor Hawking’ is funded as a research post at the University of Cambridge. Normally it has been under a 12 month contract, although recent graduate assistants have stayed on for several years.

For the application form, click here. I wish I was about 30 years younger.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Brain imaging communicates what you’re watching


Image reconstructed from fMRI image captured while the subject watched video clip

Scientists are a step closer to constructing a digital version of the human visual system. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed an algorithm that can be applied to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) imagery to show a moving image a person is seeing.

Neuroscientists have been using fMRI to study the human visual system for years, which involves measuring changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain. This works fine for studying how we see static images, but it falls short when it comes to moving imagery. Individual neuronal activity occurs over a much faster time scale, so a few years ago the researchers behind the current study set out to devise a computer model to measure this instead. The study shows that this new approach is not only successful but remarkably accurate.

The study, which appears in Current Biology this week, marks the first time that anyone has used brain imaging to determine what moving images a person is seeing. It could help researchers model the human visual system on a computer, and it raises the tantalizing prospect of one day being able to use the model to reconstruct other types of dynamic imagery, such as dreams and memories…

There are two main caveats to the study. So far. The researchers used fMRI data from only one area of the visual system—the V1 area, also known as the primary visual cortex. And the models were customized to each subject. Trying to design a model that would work for everyone would have been too difficult, says Gallant, although he suspects a more generalized model could be developed in the future.

This is especially for the paranoid among you. You know who you are.

So do we. 🙂