Comparing your brain to Albuquerque drug dealers? Har!

For the past half-century or more the brain has been spoken of in terms of a computer. What are the biggest flaws with that particular model?

It’s a very seductive comparison. But in fact, what we’re looking at is three pounds of material in our skulls that is essentially a very alien kind of material to us. It doesn’t write down memories, the way we think of a computer doing it. And it is capable of figuring out its own culture and identity and making leaps into the unknown. I’m here in Silicon Valley. Everything we talk about is hardware and software. But what’s happening in the brain is what I call livewire, where you have 86bn neurons, each with 10,000 connections, and they are constantly reconfiguring every second of your life. Even by the time you get to the end of this paragraph, you’ll be a slightly different person than you were at the beginning.

In what way does the working of the brain resemble drug dealers in Albuquerque?

It’s that the brain can accomplish remarkable things without any top-down control. If a child has half their brain removed in surgery, the functions of the brain will rewire themselves on to the remaining real estate. And so I use this example of drug dealers to point out that if suddenly in Albuquerque, where I happened to grow up, there was a terrific earthquake, and half the territory was lost, the drug dealers would rearrange themselves to control the remaining territory. It’s because each one has competition with his neighbours and they fight over whatever territory exists, as opposed to a top-down council meeting where the territory is distributed. And that’s really the way to understand the brain. It’s made up of billions of neurons, each of which is competing for its own territory.

Making a joke doesn’t count. So, I won’t. Especially since the science is really interesting.

The Long Arc of Time

By OM MALIK


Image enhanced

A few days back, I watched with wonder and awe as a copter flew on the Red Planet. Witnessing Ingenuity take off from the Mars Perseverance Rover and send images all the way back to us humans filled me with an immense sense of joy and tremendous gratitude for technology and science. These are feelings we all could and should enjoy more regularly, and maybe we would if it weren’t increasingly difficult to recognize and appreciate our own reality.

So much of human progress takes place in increments, and the most meaningful strides rarely get much attention. In roughly the same length of time that we have gone from flying gliders to flying solar-powered copters on Mars, the average human life span has doubled — and we have hardly noticed as it was happening…

Yet, even as our progress accelerates, appreciating it becomes increasingly difficult. We live in a world increasingly informed by memes, stories, and fables. Misinformation and distrust of science are the order of the day. For their own selfish and short-term needs, our leaders willfully sow doubt in what has served us so well — science and its offshoot, technology. For example, the technology behind the vaccines created to fight the dreaded coronavirus has been nearly three decades in the making. And now it could help find solutions for many other diseases. And yet, in the media, this incredible achievement is as much a flashpoint of controversy as a source of celebration.

Click the link higher up this page and read through the complete blog post. Few tech commentators speak with the authority of experience over time that colors Om’s writing.

Celebrate mediocrity: 66% of Americans will vaccinate against COVID-19

When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, 66% of adults say they will likely get it, and have their children vaccinated too, according to a new nationwide survey…

The likelihood of receiving the vaccination is below 60% in 10 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wyoming. It is greater than 70% in 11 other states: Arizona, California, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington, as well as in the District of Columbia…

The survey also shows that only 58% of those without a high school diploma say they plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 78% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree. Of people who earn less than $25,000, 59% anticipate vaccinating, compared to 78% of those who earn more than $100,000.

Someday – not in what’s left of my lifetime – we may reach a level of education, an understanding of science over superstition in the general population, when and where we need’t be concerned about sufficient vaccination for reasonable effectiveness.

Literacy means nothing if you only read crap. Or worse – you rely on the other great sources of American information: network TV, car radio disc jockeys and incumbent politicians.

Trump tells press he’d slow coronavirus testing. Never had the balls to tell Fauci!

At a hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health and other federal officials said that no one had told them — including President Trump — to slow down testing for the coronavirus. The statements came after Trump has repeatedly said that more testing would lead to more infections being revealed…

Trump has been much criticized for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. has the largest number of confirmed cases in the world — more than 2.3 million — as well as the most deaths — about 120,000. The daily number of people dying with COVID-19 has declined in recent weeks, but the number of cases is rising in many parts of the country…

Later in the testimony, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., asked Fauci and Redfield whether they had been consulted about Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization. Fauci and Redfield said they had not been directly consulted, but that they keep working with the agency on health matters.

“The CDC has a long history of working with WHO. We continue that collaboration,” Redfield said. “We continue working at the technical scientist-to-scientist level.”…

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., raised the issue of how the virus has disproportionately endangered African Americans and other minorities…

“Obviously, the African American community has suffered from racism for a very, very long period of time,” Fauci said. “And I cannot imagine that that has not contributed to the conditions that they find themselves in, economically and otherwise. So the answer, congressman, is yes.”

The hearing was interesting, useful. I always get a chuckle over the number of times Trumpo blathers out talking points aimed at the lower lifeforms who automagically vote for him. And, then, an enterprising newsperson checks up and verifies that the Trumpet hasn’t done a damned thing.

Not that he hasn’t instituted the most evil destruction of law and progress in American history. He just can’t stop lying.

More than half of the climate tipping points are now “active”,


Trump Towers

❝ More than half of the climate tipping points identified a decade ago are now “active”, a group of leading scientists have warned.

This threatens the loss of the Amazon rainforest and the great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, which are currently undergoing measurable and unprecedented changes much earlier than expected.

This “cascade” of changes sparked by global warming could threaten the existence of human civilisations.

Evidence is mounting that these events are more likely and more interconnected than was previously thought, leading to a possible domino effect…

❝ Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels.

“It is also that as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming.

“This is what we now start seeing, already at 1°C global warming…”

RTFA and reflect, folks. Pretty good odds that half – or more than half – of the politicians we currently get to choose from for political office will not not do even that much.

Why are Nobel-winning scientists old, male, white and Western?


Vera Rubin, astrophysicist who confirmed the existence of Dark Matter

Somehow, Nobel Week always sneaks up like a Swedish cat burglar, stealing me from my bed very early in the morning to hear breaking news about the latest laureates. On one level, the annual ritual is a celebration of scientific discovery, and it’s wonderful to learn about the winners’ accomplishments. But the Nobels are burdened by arcane rules and biases that, for me, have removed some of the luster. As our Michael Greshko notes, when you look at the science laureates between 1901 and 2016, they are overwhelmingly older, white, male, and Western.

Last week’s batch of science winners did little to move that needle, perpetuating stereotypes about who can be a brilliant scientist. Some pundits even noted that the Physics Nobel was awarded in part for theoretical work on the mysterious cosmic substance known as dark matter—just a few years after the death of dark matter pioneer Vera Rubin. Since the awards can’t be given posthumously, Rubin is forever snubbed.

The awards have also permanently overlooked some very worthy science, and they continue to ignore the contributions of large collaborations. If anything, Nobel Week for me has become a reminder that science is a complex and messy human endeavor, and we should not shy away from looking at it critically even as we celebrate it.

By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor

I’ll second that emotion!

new fossil fuel sources + overproduction = bankruptcy for greedy developers

❝ For decades, elected leaders and corporate executives have chased a dream of independence from unstable or unfriendly foreign oil producers. Mission accomplished: Oil companies are producing record amounts of crude oil and natural gas in the United States and have become major exporters…With a global glut driving down prices, many are losing money and are staying afloat by selling assets and taking on debt…

❝ In the last four years, roughly 175 oil and gas companies in the United States and Canada with debts totaling about $100 billion have filed for bankruptcy protection. Many borrowed heavily when oil and gas prices were far higher, only to collectively overproduce and undercut their commodity prices. At least six companies have gone bankrupt this year, and Weatherford International, the fourth-leading oil services company, which owes investors $7.7 billion, is expected to file for bankruptcy protection…

❝ One concern is that the industry will be forced to leave oil and gas in the ground as climate change prompts environmental restrictions on drilling or a shift to alternative fuels.

As usual, the fossil fuel barons relied on their political bubbas in the White House and Congress to stand in the doorway to blockade any changeover to cleaner and cheaper energy generation. Climate change deniers from both parties were doing their share. Trump was elected and pledged to continue his own variety of populist ignorance to support backwards as the only true American direction.

A funny thing happened on the way to the bank, though. The rest of the world ignored our crooks and hustlers. As did a number of state governments. Not the majority. Just the states that understand that science and engineering, progressive policies result in cleaner, forward-looking economies.

Doesn’t mean problems are all solved. “Backwards” still includes a lot of federal flunkies calling themselves Democrats and Republicans. Change is only coming in the fullest sense of the word if all the deadwood is cleared out of the way.

An AI model showed Flint how to find lead pipes. What do you think they did after that?

❝ …Volunteer computer scientists, with some funding from Google, designed a machine-learning model to help predict which homes were likely to have lead pipes. The artificial intelligence was supposed to help the City dig only where pipes were likely to need replacement. Through 2017, the plan was working. Workers inspected 8,833 homes, and of those, 6,228 homes had their pipes replaced — a 70 percent rate of accuracy.

Heading into 2018, the City signed a big, national engineering firm, AECOM, to a $5 million contract to “accelerate” the program, holding a buoyant community meeting to herald the arrival of the cavalry in Flint…

❝ As more and more people had their pipes evaluated in 2018, fewer and fewer inspections were finding lead pipes…The new contractor hasn’t been efficiently locating those pipes: As of mid-December 2018, 10,531 properties had been explored and only 1,567 of those digs found lead pipes to replace. That’s a lead-pipe hit rate of just 15 percent, far below the 2017 mark…

❝ There are reasons for the slowdown. AECOM discarded the machine-learning model’s predictions, which had guided excavations. And facing political pressure from some residents, Mayor Weaver demanded that the firm dig across the city’s wards and in every house on selected blocks, rather than picking out the homes likely to have lead because of age, property type, or other characteristics that could be correlated with the pipes.

After a multimillion-dollar investment in project management, thousands of people in Flint still have homes with lead pipes, when the previous program would likely have already found and replaced them.

Life in America seems about as predictable as ever. Doesn’t have to be. Still, don’t get smug about analyzing the causes. Just fix it!

DNA Reveals Intricate Connections Between The First People of The Americas

Comparisons between two extraordinary sets of ancient American remains have added rich detail to the spread of ancient human populations through the New World more than 13,000 years ago. And it shows a surprising and far-reaching connection between native North, South, and Central Americans.

What started as a simple story of migration is quickly turning into an intricate web of movement and cross-pollination, revealing connections that stretch not just deep into South America, but perhaps around the world.

None of these movements replaced existing populations, but rather show a melting pot of migrations that ebbed and flowed.

Interesting stuff. Information growing from DNA studies proceeds in so many directions as different database projects grow and interchange information. Studies on the formation and intermingling of so many ethnicities are fascinating – confirming or denying myth, legend and early science.