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      So, a little bit ago I noted that with temperatures of 70 degrees in the arctic, we could expect permafrost to melt, and that would release methane. Methane is a lot stronger greenhouse gas than carbon, in the short run, and there is a lot held in arctic permafrost. It was suggested that this was […]
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Anti-vaxxers should be tarred and feathered…

Tanaquil Le Clercq, Principal dancer with NYCB. Her career was tragically cut short by polio in 1956.

…and run out of town on a rail.

I can’t believe how so many allegedly “educated” people are refusing to vaccinate their kids. We’re not talking just about measles. We’re talking about polio too. Polio is not like smallpox. It hasn’t been eradicated. If people are able to spread measles around, it won’t be long before there’s a polio epidemic with the shriveled limbs to go with it. Isolating anti-vaxxers from social gatherings might be the only way to get through to them.

But the growth of the anti-vax crowd is very disturbing. Following up on the post last night about how scientists think differently, I get the feeling that people who make money are so valued and scientists less valued that our credibility has taken a hit. It doesn’t help that the industry I used to work for has fueled this distrust by looking out for shareholders at the expense of everyone else. That is not to say that it has been deliberately manufacturing shoddy products. I don’t believe that and as long as we have a strong FDA, we shouldn’t have to worry. But the price gouging is hard to ignore and that makes people suspicious, especially when it’s combined with mass marketing that includes 30 seconds of side effect information. I’m going to bet that most people don’t look up the information on the drugs they take and don’t know which side effects are common, rare or dangerous. It all sounds extremely dangerous to the average person.

And then the industry asks parents to inject stuff into their kids without giving them a crash course in immunology so they can see just how beneficial the vaccination is and how it works.

So, maybe all the people who are defending the excessive amounts of money spent on marketing at the expense of R&D should sit down and think about this for a few minutes. Maybe marketing is the problem here, even if we’re not talking specifically about vaccinations on TV.

Marketing has its place. Fundraising is a good place for marketing. Selling pharmaceuticals and vaccinations, ehhhh, not so much. Too much information, presented without qualification, may just be too much scary information. The industry needs to fix this fast.

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Scientists and current issues

You can take the scientist out of employment but you can’t take the science out of the employee. Er, or something like that. Let’s face it, a geek is a geek.

This post is in response to the one that Digby posted yesterday about a recent survey that was published in Mother Jones of how scientists think about current issues versus the general public. The survey looked pretty spot on to me. I found myself firmly in the scientist camp and this survey gave me a little more insight into why I frequently find myself unable to embrace the positions of my own side even though I am clearly NOT a conservative.

First, some notes on our attitudes.

It’s no surprise that an overwhelming majority of scientists believe in natural selection/evolution. This is very easy for us especially in the era of bioinformatics. When you can see the genome spelled out, literally, and do an evolutionary trace on critical proteins, there’s just no question about it. The proof is right there. It’s not ambiguous or controversial. There’s no point in debating the issue with someone who believes in creationism. There’s no common ground there. Either you rationally acknowledge what you are seeing with your own eyes or you don’t. Forcing me to believe in the literal interpretation of the bible would require a lobotomy. I might accommodate a different concept of God and creation (and I do) but the Adam and Eve story is no substitute for the reality of evolution and there’s really no point to discussing it. I’m not going to EVER change my mind about evolution. I suspect that other scientists feel the same. If that makes fundamentalists uncomfortable, they need to get over it.

But what Digby found surprising is that the number of non-scientists who believe in evolution is also up to 65%. That’s encouraging. Part of this is probably due to exposing students to the theory in school. But even those people who live in the bible belts of some states may eventually be exposed through the internet. That’s generally how even the most sheltered of fundamentalist raised kids lose their religion. I suspect that when fundie raised kids lose their religion, they lose it in a bigger way than those kids raised in a more liberal church environment. The disillusion hits harder I think. But that’s for a different survey.

It’s also no surprise that many scientists are Ok with nuclear energy. Left leaning types should pay attention to this. If you are really concerned with carbon emissions and the effect they have on climate, you owe it to the people you are trying to convince to come up with an alternative to fossil fuel and if you take nuclear energy off the table completely, as many lefties do, you leave wind, solar, water and biofuels. That’s not going to be enough to power modern life and even the most non-scientific people in the world can figure this out. I think my generation was scared to death by the nuclear clock and Ronald Reagan and nuclear winter scenarios. Then came the China Syndrome, Three Mile Island, Chernyobl and most recently, the Japanese Tsunami. We have an emotional response to the word “nuclear”. But we tend to forget the safety records of institutions like the US Navy and the many countries around the world that use nuclear energy. It can be done safely. We don’t expect science to stay in place. There’s no reason why we can’t figure out a way of using nuclear fuel even more safely. I think we need to start thinking about nuclear energy more seriously and there’s no time to lose. We’ve wasted too much time peeing our pants over the issue.

As for animal testing, it’s oogy. The left has a visceral response to it in the same way that the right responds to abortion. Digby thinks it should be acceptable only when there is no other alternative. Ok, so I worked in an industry that spends zillions of hours each year trying to produce models that will replicate what only a living organism can tell us as far as toxicity and safety are concerned. They’re called ADME/T models. You can take it from me because I have seen the models, animal testing is necessary. Yep, there is no other way around it. The models are shite, even the best. They’re bad for several reasons. First, they suffer from a lack of test data. Companies do not want to share the information they have on the compounds they have tested. They consider the compound information proprietary. Presumably, the more data we have, the better the model. But this is not always true. The second problem is the issue of global vs local models. That is, if you have a series of compounds that are similar, the predictive power of the model constructed from those series is going to be better than a model constructed of compounds that are diverse. There is a limit to the way we understand the interaction of atoms in a molecule and the interactions of that molecule to its immediate environment in the cell and then the entire organism. So, don’t count on the models being very good for a long time. Like, maybe ever.

We can test compounds on cell and tissue cultures and this would be preferable than live animals when it comes to general working assays and for cosmetics. But there is no substitute for testing for safety on animals. The final proof of safety is when the FDA approves a drug for use and it gets into the general public. There is no such thing as a perfect, side effect free drug. If the public wants drugs that are effective and inexpensive, it needs to come to grips with this reality. Not every side effect is a sign of malice or negligence of the drug industry, no matter what the legal industry would have you believe. We are all unique, our bodies break down drugs differently and uniquely, and side effects do happen despite our best efforts.

I could go on through this list but I think you get the point. The reason why there is a difference between the scientific mind and the non-scientific mind for many of these issues has nothing to do with smartness. It has to do with emotion. Emotions on the right and the left are susceptible to being pinged by interested parties, although, for the life of me, I can’t figure out whose interests are served by the anti-vax crowd. It makes no damn sense. Then again, I am having trouble wrapping my head around the people who say they understand natural selection but don’t want to eat GMO foods. In each of the cases where scientists differ substantially from non-scientists, there’s usually *someone* who has a reason to push an emotional button. On climate change, nuclear energy and fracking, I’m going to bet it’s the oil industry. On evolution, it’s the authoritarian mindset that needs followers who see the world as unpredictable and who seek the favor of a jealous and fearsome God. On pesticides, GM foods and animal testing, the left shows it’s own religious beliefs and wishful thinking but I also see the work of the class action industry.

As far as the agricultural and pharmaceutical researcher is concerned, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. People want cures and cheaper food but they want it in a perfect world. In the absence of perfection, there must be pain and punishment to the very industry that is trying to improve on nature. You don’t want us to mess with nature? Ok, stop complaining about the state of the world. But there is no reason why there has to be a binary. There can be a continuum of gradual improvement. Maybe what we really need to examine is the incentives to innovation, who is paying for it and what their ulterior motives are. We might need to talk about that in a later post.

The left embraces science when it thinks the right is overreacting and behaving like simpletons with regard to issues that it thinks are obvious. But scientists see both sides as clinging too closely to their own side’s dogma and the left can be as driven by emotion and as irrational as the right when it comes to its own sacred cows. Does that mean that the scientist is always right? No, but we deal with uncertainty every day. It comes with the job. It’s what we do. Static is never good enough. We look for the truth which is very different than what is politically correct. We are always challenging each others’ assumptions. It can makes us annoying people to the rest of the world. We never stop questioning, or, in any case, we shouldn’t. One of the reasons why I am so concerned with the fate of the R&D industry is because we are so beholden to the finance industry lately and the MBAs only want to hear things that justify the investment they’ve poured into a venture. The truth might get that capital pulled. It’s a dangerous environment for job security and for the rigor of science in general.

But in general, the left has to worry more about its own attitudes and prejudices than the right does. We are never going to change the super-religious. Eventually, a whole generation of people who cling to their anti-science dogma is going to start to die out. Oh sure, they might leave behind a Quiverful movement to replace them but I think that the increasing number of people embracing evolution is a good sign. That leaves the rest of us tackling food insecurity, energy consumption, climate change and health care. All of these are extremely important to the future of our planet. It’s important for us to stop dreaming of a perfect world and deal with the one we’re actually living in.

Yes, scientists are different and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Things go better with Koch?

Long time readers of this blog know that I haven’t spent a lot of time taking about the Koch brothers or Citizens United. That’s not because campaign financing is not important. It is. I just always assumed, probably incorrectly, that Americans, even the most TV news captured, would eventually see the relationship between the amount of money spent in a campaign and how negative ads were impacting their voting decisions. Unfortunately, we spend so much time hating each other that we don’t see the influence of money.

Like a lot of social psychology that I don’t completely understand, Americans seem to be impressed with money and the authority it conveys even if the people using it to gain political office are predatory, greedy and selfish and not interested in representing anyone but themselves. As for the learned helplessness of “Well, the world is corrupt, there’s nothing we can do about it”, I blame Fox News and the 700 Club.

I just don’t get the Kochs though. The latest news about them is that they are planning to spend an ungodly amount of money in the 2016 election. The number is something like $899 million dollars. That’s almost a billion dollars that could be poured into fledgling biotech startups and put hundreds of scientists back to work discovering new drugs. Or that money could be used to improve our broadband infrastructure or replace rotting bridges. But no, these dudes are going to spend that money attacking and undermining American values.

At first I thought this had something to do with taxes but when you get to the point where you’re going to spend almost a billion on campaigns, why wouldn’t you just pay the taxes? What am I missing here? In attempting to answer that question, Charles Koch made this nonsensical statement:

“Americans have taken an important step in slowing down the march toward collectivism,” Koch said, according to excerpts released over the weekend. “But as many of you know, we don’t rest on our laurels. We are already back at work and hard at it.”

That the hell is he talking about? The US is about the least collectivist nation in the world. We cut our teeth on American mythology of the rugged individualist succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest expectations with no help from anyone. That’s why we attracted so many immigrants throughout the past two centuries. This was the land of opportunity. But I get the feeling that the Kochs won’t be happy until they eliminate sharing in Kindergarten.

Oh, sure, they’d be the first people who would promote private charity but I have seen the holes in private charity. If by collectivism they mean the ability of Americans to unite against the exploitative profit mining of the rich that has undermined everything from education and good roads to health care and a decent salary, then we’ve got a major problem.

I have now come to the conclusion that this is not just about taxes. It’s about the Koch’s just not liking Americans. They’ve gotten just about everything greedy, selfish people could possibly want but now they want to make sure that no one else gets anything at all.

I don’t consider myself an envious person. No, really, I’m not. I don’t care how many houses a person has or how big it is. Money doesn’t equal taste. You’re never going to impress me with your leased BMW. I have a modest house that needs some work and I’m located near the bus line and that’s fine with me. Years of living in New Jersey with my nice salary that only afforded me a meh middle class lifestyle has made me realize that I just don’t need that much stuff to be successful. Meaningful work that I enjoy is much more important than acquiring stuff even if that means I don’t take a yearly cruise.

But I do wonder why it is that people like the Kochs seem so determined to strip away any security we have in our old age. Why is it we have to worry about the post office going out of business? Why do so many people have to live on food stamps and why are the Koch elected officials so determined to cut food stamps off from people who will just end up having to go to a food pantry to meet their caloric requirements? Who made them Gods to decide how much uniting and risk distribution Americans can do to protect themselves?

Don’t tell me this is about the hard upbringing these two had clearing brush from their father’s ranch when they were younger. There are a lot of people whose parents were hard assed, spirit breaking morons who never let their kids have a moment of fun when they were growing up. Most people don’t become predators without consciences who used their money to deprive other people of a sense of security. We now have to consider the possibility that there is something morally and psychologically disturbed with these two people who would prefer that families suffer and sick and hungry children get substandard educations because they don’t want to share the massive fortunes that they can’t possibly live long enough to enjoy.

How ironic is that? They have enough money to buy anything on earth several times over and what they really want to spend their money on is depriving you of your piece of mind. If there’s not a diagnosis in the DSM for that, there should be.

I just don’t get it. In the Kochs we see people who really hate those of us who are not billionaires. They have contempt for us. That makes their activity in campaigns even more disturbing. They’re getting more subtle as well. There will be new ways that they will use that money to influence people in 2016 and most Americans, I fear, will not even know what hit them. Generally, their strategy has been to make Americans hate each other.

Still, the question needs to be asked: why do the Kochs hate us?

Stupid Football Stories

Is the Brady football story the dumbest story of the year so far? The Small-Evil-Group that runs the world, and to which no one we know personally belongs, must be trying to divert attention from something important if they are dangling this shiny object.

Under inflated footballs is not a story. Seriously. I can prove that an under inflated football has no effect on the outcome of a game. Here it is:

So, Bradshaw threw the ball, it was *almost* intercepted, but due to physics, angles and the Virgin Mary, it collided inelastically and right into the loving arms of Franco Harris.

Now, I guess you could say that with an under inflated football, the force of the collision would make the ball more like a lead zeppelin and less likely to ricochet but doesn’t that also suggest that the interception would have been successful and Harris and the Steelers would have gone home with nothing? Weird things do happen when fast moving flying objects hurtle through a crowded field. Anyone could catch it if they’re in the right place. The trick is to make sure you’re in the right place.

An under inflated ball is agnostic as to team membership. When Brady engineers the ball to act like a drone zeroing in on only members of his team who are wearing secret tracking devices, then I’ll care.

In other words, the best offense is a good defense, or something like that. The game was a blowout. The ball had nothing to do with it.

Now, what is it we’re supposed to be paying attention to?

Ballet Season: The Sleeping Beauty

Ok, you know the drill. I’m not a fan of story ballets. The plots are silly, the choreography too stagey and everyone moves way too slowly. But that’s like saying that I don’t like dark chocolate as much as milk chocolate. I love chocolate. Same with ballet.

The Sleeping Beauty has its good moments and tedious quarters of an hour. I mean, the finger fairy. What was Petipa thinking? Did he just have too much coffee that day? But the Aurora and prince pas de deux is sublime. So, what goes into creating the perfect pas de deux? I have two videos for you on the subject.

The first is a rehearsal of the pas de deux by The Royal Ballet. Aurora is danced by soloist Yuhui Choe, a lovely and talented dancer. Director Anthony Dowell gives some specific instructions about “breathing” with the hands and emphasizes the difference between the Russian and English dance technique. Margot Fonteyn did not do Russian. Choe’s partner is Artist Benjamin Ella. In the US, he would be a corps de ballet member, so, several ranks below Choe and just learning to partner well.

The second is the full pas de deux by two talented young dancers in San Diego. Brittany Geoghehan joined the San Diego Ballet this winter. This rehearsal was recorded about a year ago when she was still a student of ballet teacher and San Diego principal dancer Max Tchernychev. Her partner is Peter Kurta. He seems to be more attentive and proactive than the Choe’s partner above and demonstrates how a good partner can make a difference. I’ve seen Kurta partner other dancers and he makes everyone look good. This is clearly a work in progress but I love the way these two dance together. And Britt has the longest, most fairy like legs I have ever seen on a ballerina. The last few seconds are not to be missed.

Here’s the Royal Ballet working out the steps:

And here is Brittany and Pete:

Hard to believe this is controversial

This is the police chief of Pittsburgh, Cameron McLay, during First Night celebrations calling for awareness of racism at work:

Granted, there are some people who see racism where there isn’t any (I’m talking to you, Obots). But most of us know racism when we hear it. Like, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea that mass transit isn’t more popular just because residents of suburbia are afraid that inner city residents might use it. Wow, I can’t even describe how many kinds of dumb are in that sentiment. It’s not only racist, it’s short sighted. It’s like someone with a devious political mind is using latent racism to screw the rest of us out of cheap, convenient transportation that will minimize our use of fossil fuels. It’s a threefer! Cheat urban voters of transportation, treat black voters as undesirables and give more money to the oil barons who force us to use our cars more frequently. Oh, yes, I love to give my money to already rich people so they can influence politicians to deny me services.

But getting back to Police Chief McLay, he had to write a clarification to the Pittsburgh FOP stating that it wasn’t his intention to offend anyone but that he was committed to raising awareness of racism in his department. Isn’t that a *good* thing? I mean, I’d much rather we had a police force that didn’t act like the cops in Ferguson, NYC or Cleveland. It’s hard to believe he even has to hold a sign indicating his commitment. Way to go, Mayor Peduto, for not giving into pressure and backing your police chief.

We can blame Fox News for irrationally ramping up fear and Rush Limbaugh types for the stupidity and venom.

‘gits

#Serial: Maguffins

Screen Shot 2015-01-10 at 8.00.15 AM

The green pin drop. The new focus of investigation?

Maguffin- a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot.

I’ve asked myself over and over again why I can’t quit Serial. I think it has to do with fear. If Adnan is innocent, and I think he is, then getting thrown in jail for life is something that could happen to any one of us. All it takes is a prosecutor who is willing to press for a conviction rather than the truth. Any warm body will do. All it takes is a missing alibi witness. As the country becomes more polarized and ideological, who is to say that more life ruining prosecutions couldn’t happen?

Maguffins don’t hurt either. A maguffin could be something tangible, like a Maltese Falcon. Or it could be the idea of a missing car. In general, it misdirects the attention of the sleuths. Serial could just as easily be called “The Case of the Missing Car”.

The argument against a third party or serial killer in the murder of Hae Min Lee was that Jay knew where the car was. That’s what also tied Adnan to the crime, very loosely, in my opinion. If Jay knew where the car was, that means he must have known who the killer was. Therefore, Jay’s story that Adnan committed the crime derives its legitimacy from his knowledge of the car’s location.

But what if Jay did not know where the car was. What if he failed to find the car for the cops on his first attempt. And while we’re at it, what if the cops knew where the car was all along and used Jay to corroborate the theory they had. Maybe they played a version of “hot- cold” with him until he “found” the car, just like they had refreshed his memory about what he did that day with the cell phone records log. If that’s what happened, i.e., Jay didn’t arrive at the location of the car independently, then his story means crap, even accounting for the crazy timeline of his multiple narratives presented to the cops and in his court testimony.

There are some new podcasts and links that suggest two possibilities with respect to the location of the car: 1.) The police found Hae’s car before they found her body and 2.) Jay failed to identify the location of the car on his first try. In other words, he did not know where the car was.

The first link is to Deirdre Enright’s interview with Coy Barefoot (real name) of Inside Charlottesville. This podcast is full of cluey goodness. Deirdre has said previously that Serial only revealed about 1/8th of the evidence in the case. In this podcast, she says her Innocence Project team is ready to file in the state of Maryland for the physical evidence to be tested for DNA. Yep, the whole motion is all wrapped up and ready to go- except, her clinic has been getting hundreds of phone calls from people. Some of them just want to tell her their theories. The rest are from people who have new evidence or information. This information is relevant to the case and it sounds like it is pointing towards an alternative suspect. So Deirdre is holding off on filing. It sounds like they are getting closer to cracking the case. And then at about the 6 minute mark, she drops a bombshell. She briefly recounts to Barefoot the summary of the case and then says that the police found the car before they found Hae’s body. At first, I thought she just messed up the timeline. But now, I think she let that piece of information dangle out there on purpose.

Then there is Rabia Chaudry at Splitthemoon. Yesterday, she participated in a Blogginheads.tv podcast about the case. She also refers to the car. She says that the first time that Jay takes the cops to the car’s location, he gets it wrong. He gets it right the second time. So, does Jay actually know where the car is? Because if he doesn’t, his credibility is pretty much shot. Rabia had the files for the case in her possession for 15 years but maybe she didn’t have all of them until recently. If she had, the appeals process might have gone differently. It sounds like either Deirdre, Rabia or some other source has found the document that shows when the car was actually found.

Susan Simpson of The View from LL2 was interviewed by Arms Control Wonk the other day. Susan is relentlessly anal when it comes to checking and cross checking Jay’s story. She and the arms wonks discuss geospatial analysis and she refers obliquely to one other important location (the green pin drop in the map above) associated with Jay that could be the key to the whole mystery of who killed Hae. I believe she also refers to Jay’s knowledge of the car’s location and that it’s not what it at first appears to be, i.e. confirmation that Jay helped Adnan.

Recently, she has been parsing Keven Urick’s interview with The Intercept. The Intercept has either posed as prosecution friendly or actually is prosecution friendly (my intuition says they’re faking it) and in doing so has given both Jay and Urick enough rope to hang themselves. Susan has ruthlessly slashed through all of their inconsistencies. Her latest post on Urick’s interview should put an end to any question of wrongful conviction. It looks like Urick had no idea what the cell phone records really meant. Or maybe he did and he was just counting on a jury that wouldn’t pay attention or would be swayed by a more emotional appeal. It worked for Urick. But it was just another notch on his belt. At some point, putting an innocent person away for life became less important than winning.

Taking the car off the table is a big relief to data nerds like me. Nothing else made sense while it was still front and center. That is why I didn’t really believe Jay knew where the car was. More than two decades in research does leave a mark. That piece of data just never smelled right. If Jay could be coached through the cell phone records, why not the car location? But it was always the convenient comeback of “Adnan is guilty” people who accept that Jay lied, the cell phone records made no sense and there is no physical evidence tying Adnan to the crime. “But Jay knew where the car was!” put an end to any other theory of the crime. Remove Jay’s claim and the case opens up and we can rigorously consider other possibilities. With Susan’s analysis, the cell phone records make more sense. It looks like Adnan really was at track like he says he was. Combine that with the Asia alibi letters and we can account for much of Adnan’s missing time that day. Then, expand on Jay’s personal connections and the calls that ping the Leakin Park cell towers also come into play in a more predictable way. Who knows, maybe Jay really did help bury the body at midnight.

While Jay was burying Hae, leaving her frantic parents in suspense for a month, Adnan Syed was. in all likelihood, fast asleep in safety and warmth of his family home, dreaming away his last hours of youth and freedom.