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.

Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy!


DeAngelo accused of 13 murders, nearly 50 rapes

❝ Everyone’s DNA sequence is unique. But for those who wish to maintain their genetic privacy, it may not be unique enough.

A new study argues that more than half of Americans could be identified by name if all you had to start with was a sample of their DNA and a few basic facts, such as the region where they live and about how old they might be.

❝ One of them is the rise of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe can sequence anyone’s DNA for about $100. All you have to do is provide a sample of saliva and drop it in the mail.

The other essential element is the proliferation of publicly searchable genealogy databases like GEDmatch. Anyone can upload a full genome to these sites and powerful computers will crunch through it, looking for stretches of matching DNA sequences that can be used to build out a family tree.

❝ So far, 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo is the most famous person to be identified this way. You may know him better as the suspected Golden State Killer, charged with 13 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted kidnapping…Since then, at least 13 additional suspected criminals have been identified in the same way…

“When the police caught the Golden State Killer, that was a very good day for humanity,” Columbia University computer scientist Yaniv Erlich said. “The problem is that the very same strategy can be misused.”

I tire of timorous mice who whine about the potential misuse of scientific procedures as if they are automatically destined to be implemented by an evil government. The solution is to regulate governments before they can grow evil, crap governments run by fools, reactionary governments voted into office by the ignorant and fearful.

Want to protect our privacy? Quit electing pimps for corporations which profit from abusing privacy. Get off your rusty dusty and spend a little time and political energy working to guarantee privacy. That won’t come from a line or two of patented code; but, by keeping an eye on the human beings who profit from sleazy government.

Cat genes and culture


Dawntreader Texas Calboy

Controversy started last December when Mistelle Stevenson entered a Maine coon cat by the name of Dawntreader Texas Calboy in The Cat Fanciers’ Association show in Cleburne. As the cat’s name implies, he is a calico—marked with patches of brown, red, and white—and he is male. Those things do not go together. The basics of feline genetics say calicos are supposed to be female. (“Technically almost genetically impossible,” one Dallas veterinarian told NBC 5.) The judges had no idea what to do with him. The CFA’s inches-thick book of rules didn’t list his color for male cats. Confusion ensued.

❝ Some of the judges held Calboy up to the crowd, praised his lovely form, then gawked over his coloring and promptly kicked him out of their show rings. Others awarded him ribbons. Despite the judges’ disagreement, by the end of his Cleburne weekend, Calboy had accumulated four wins. Two more and he’d be a champion.

❝ Stevenson decided to pack up Calboy and head to the January show in Houston. But by then, word had spread about the questionable cat. Most of the judges wouldn’t allow Calboy to compete due to his gender-defying mottled markings. Still, one broke from the crowd to give him a win. With one more, he’d have enough points to become the first male calico champion in CFA history.

You know nothing easy like updating the rules happened. That never would make it into newsprint. Nope. The usual hidebound, ignoranus mentality you would expect from folks whose avocations are dedicated to purity were bound to fight to someone else’s death to preserve and protect their silliness.

RTFA. And thanks to UrsaRodinia for sending me a really interesting, well-written story about a radical cat and a boatload of backwards humans.

Trump Flunkey wants use of science reduced by EPA staff

❝ The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency broke with four decades of practice Tuesday and proposed limits on the science used to develop policies protecting public health and the environment.

The measure, backed by conservatives and some advisers to President Donald Trump who have warned of “junk science,” would prevent the EPA from considering scientific research unless all methodological, technical and other information is publicly available. But critics fear the move would exclude such research as public-health studies containing anonymized patient data.

This political hack has no comprehension of scientific methods, requirements for accuracy and information. He’s dedicated his career to pimping for the rich and powerful. It matters not to him whether they are criminal or simply opportunist frauds – like him and his boss, the Fake President.

❝ “It’s a perfect catch-22,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Center for Science and Democracy, said. “You must protect the public health, but you can’t use public-health science to do it. Therefore, you don’t protect the public health…”